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IG: Managers let VA employee get away with cheating agency

Mar. 4, 2014 - 01:39PM   |  
By Leo Shane III Staff writer   |   Comments

Poor management oversight allowed a Veterans Affairs Department employee to skip work, use government computers for sex chats and bilk the agency out of nearly $31,000, according to a new inspector general report.

The news follows numerous complaints from conservative critics of the department that senior staffers haven’t done enough to hold problematic employees accountable for their failings.

Investigators found numerous fireable offenses by the unnamed employee, a claims rater out of the department’s Nashville office. But instead of getting rid of him, supervisors worked to accommodate and promote the man — at one point creating a new, higher-paid job for him in Washington, D.C.

The report singles out five supervisors for their roles in the workplace malfeasance, and recommended administrative action against each.

Investigators said their lax supervision not only broke government rules and hurt morale, but also in a small way may have added to VA’s still problematic claims backlog, since the Tennessee office where he worked was without one of its rating specialists.

VA officials did not respond directly to allegations in the report, and would not say what action was taken against the supervisors or if the unnamed employee was fired.

In a statement, they noted that the department “takes any allegation regarding misuse of departmental resources very seriously” and “will determine appropriate actions to take.”

The inspector general report lays most of the blame for the episode on former VA senior adviser Jonah Czerwinski, director of the VA Center for Innovation until last October, when he left for a private-sector job.

Investigators said Czerwinski pressured officials to create a new job for the employee in the department’s central office after a short stint working together in 2010.

While that position was being created, the man enjoyed free rein over his travel and work hours, taking unauthorized trips to Washington, Florida and New York. He often reported for duty from his hotel room, in violation of federal rules, and in many cases produced little.

“By his own admission, he took advantage of the lack of supervision and unlimited freedom given to him,” the report states.

He also racked up thousands in questionable expenses, including bar tabs, shopping trips and cash advances. Investigators found that he “downloaded and installed unapproved software to his VA-issued laptop for the purpose of [sex chats].”

The man described his behavior to investigators as “out of control.”

The inspector general’s office issued 16 recommendations related to the wrongdoings, including a review of all ratings workers “to ensure that any not performing the functions of their position are either properly detailed or returned to their duties.”

VA officials said they are reviewing the recommendations.

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