As a reminder, the “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” declares the following, “… necessary for the practical and efficient work of the Department.” I have a Missouri mentality, “Show Me.” Show me where the funds provided are being appropriately used for the “practical” or “efficient” work of the various departments of the Federal Government! The Senators and Representatives have two jobs, write laws and scrutinize government. I am not specifically picking on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). From my research, each department of the Executive Branch is suffering from similar problems, but I am especially concerned about the VA as a veteran.
What is designed incompetence?
Defining designed incompetence; designed incompetence is where operations, procedures, and processes for conducting business are specifically designed to provide lazy people, bureaucrats, and bureaucracies the ready-made excuse not to work. Designed incompetence is observed by being the customer and requesting service from a government office. Designed incompetence is the hallmark of the government at all levels, and this must cease forthwith.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is allowed the ability to govern themselves, provided they meet specific guidelines and legislated goals and directions. The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) was established to give legislators and the VA with tools and processes to improve, as well as to investigate root causes and make recommendations for improvement. But, here is the rub, the VA-OIG has no teeth to help their recommendations hold the attention of those in charge to make changes. For the legislators elected to scrutinize government, why are the inspectors general not able to enforce “recommendations?”
In December 2014, the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) passed Congress and was signed into law by the president; FITARA is a historic law representing the first major overhaul of Federal information technology (IT) in almost 20 years. Since FITARA’s enactment, OMB published guidance to agencies to ensure that this law is applied consistently government-wide in both a workable and an effective way. 2014 saw the VA slow the loss of private data from the VA, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Data Breach is gaining momentum and will crest in 2015. In case memory has failed, 2014 saw an explosion in VA malfeasance get uncovered, starting with the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital in Phoenix, AZ.
December 2020 will mark the sixth anniversary of FITARA, and President Trump signed a five-year FITARA bill in May 2018. The VA-OIG in reporting progress on FITARA at the VA has this to report,
“… The audit team evaluated two groups of requirements involving the role of the VA chief information officer during the fiscal year 2018. They related to the CIO (1) reviewing and approving all information technology (IT) asset and service acquisitions across the VA enterprise and (2) planning, programming, budgeting, and executing the functions for IT, including governance, oversight, and reporting. The audit team found that VA did not meet FITARA requirements and identified several causes.”
The number one reason for non-compliance after almost six-years was “VA policies and processes that limited the chief information officer’s (sic) review of IT investments and the oversight of IT resources.” Not mentioned in the VA-OIG report is how many of these processes and policies had been enacted since 2014. The VA’s own procedures and policies reflect more designed incompetence, making a ready excuse to be out of legal compliance with legislated obligations. If this was a private business, and the legislated obligations were not being followed precisely, no excuse could keep the leadership team out of jail and the company in operation. Hence, Congress, why do you allow this egregious behavior by public servants?
On the topic of designed incompetence, foot-dragging, and legislated obedience, the VA-OIG issued a glowing report of compliance because the VA was found to comply with three of the five recommendations from a VA-OIG inspection on Mission Act from June 2019. The progress made was on all aspects of the Mission Act except mandatory disclosure. Why does this not surprise me; of course, the VA has had, and continues to suffer from, a case of refusing to report, disclose, and communicate without severe prodding and legislated mandates. Thus, I congratulate the VA on complying with the Mission Act for the last three consecutive quarters on a total of three recommendations from the VA-OIG; this is a good beginning; when can we expect improvement on mandatory disclosure? Designed incompetence relies upon disclosure malfeasance, collective misfeasance, and leadership shenanigans, all of which, coincidentally, the VA suffers from, in spades!.
On the topic of designed incompetence, the VA-OIG reported that the Northport VA Medical Center in Northport, New York, prior medical center leaders did not plan effectively to address aging infrastructure deficiencies. Which is the polite way of saying, the buildings are old, and maintenance has been creatively haphazard. Hence when steam erupts from fittings and contaminates patient treatment rooms with asbestos, lead paint, live steam, and other construction debris, a small problem becomes a multi-month catastrophe. Thankfully, the VA-OIG reported no harm to the patients or patient care restrictions from this episode. Unfortunately, the VA-OIG cannot hold the managers and directors of engineering services personally responsible. Having worked in several capacities in engineering, I am astounded at the following recommendation from the VA-OIG, and covered employee creatively designed incompetence:
“… The OIG recommended that the medical center director develop processes and procedures for submitting work orders—including for notifications when work orders are assigned and reviewed for accuracy and consistency—to help the center’s engineering service prioritize work and manage resource[s].”
Will the VA-OIG please answer the following questions, “Why is this the hospital directors’ job?” You have an entire engineering plant, with a supposedly competent director to oversee engineering operations. Why and how should the hospital director focus such extensive amounts of time on the job that rightly belongs to the engineering plant director? There are several technology-based programs and options that can perform this work, and forms reports automatically based upon performance by engineering staff in completing work orders. Why is the VA-OIG recommendation not including an automated process to improve performance? The lack of leadership oversight in the engineering department is creative and designed incompetence; why do these people causing problems to remain employed? The VA-OIG report recommended following the master plan, reporting progress to the master plan, and suggested that the engineering plant’s director needs to be doing the job they are collecting a wage to perform.
On the topic of creatively designed incompetence, we find the following from the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA). A veteran patient that spends more than 21-days in hospital for treatment is supposed to be placed on 100% disability and paid at the higher disability amount. Those veterans with mental health concerns are supposed to have additional support to help them manage their benefits from the VA.
“The VA-OIG estimated VA Regional Office employees did not adjust or incorrectly adjusted disability compensation benefits in about 2,500 of the estimated 5,800 cases eligible for adjustments, creating an estimated $8 million in improper payments in the calendar year 2018. The OIG estimated 1,900 cases did not have competency determinations documented for service-connected mental health conditions.”
On this single issue, the VBA has a 43.10% failure rate. On other processes, the VBA has been at 90.87% error rates. Why is this another case of creatively designed incompetence? Because every time the VBA gets caught not doing their job, the reason is training, reports not filed correctly, and lack of managerial oversight. I could have predicted these reasons for designed incompetence before the investigation began. That administrative oversight, employees not filing accurate and timely reports, and training not occurring for employees has been an ongoing and repeated theme in VBA’s designed incompetence since early 2000 when magically the VBA was behind in processing veteran claims for disabilities. This theme stretches to the VBA inappropriately deciding claims for spine issues. The same theme was reported in the VBA improperly paying benefits. The list of offenses by the VBA is long, and the excuse is tiresome. The VA-OIG reported:
“Employees who processed benefit adjustments also lacked proficiency. They lacked sufficient ongoing experience and training to maintain requisite knowledge. This is also why employees were unclear on the requirement to document the relevant competency of veterans admitted for service-connected mental health conditions.”
How ironic that the root causes of a VA-OIG inspection find people paid to perform a job but are not actually doing the job because they lack proficiency, training, managerial oversight and are unclear on what they are expected to do in their jobs.
To the elected officials of the US House of Representatives and the Senate, the following are posed:
- If you hired a carpenter to enter your home, perform work, and discover that the carpenter does not know the job they were hired and contracted to perform, what would your response be? If your answer is to keep that non-working carpenter in that position, in your home, I must wonder about your intellect and competence.
- How can you allow this structured incompetence to live from one VA-OIG report to the next? How can you justify this behavior at the VA? How many other offices of inspectors general reports are reporting the same designed incompetence in Federal Employment, and you are not taking immediate action to correct these deficiencies?
- Why should anyone re-elect you; when the taxpayers endure this designed incompetence, paying you and them to abuse us. You were elected to oversee and scrutinize that which we the citizens cannot; yet, you continually strive to perform everything but this essential role. Why should we re-elect you to public office?
The following suggestions are offered as starting points to curb designed incompetence, improve performance, and effect positive change at the Department of Veterans Affairs, including the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemeteries.
- Implement ISO as a quality control system where processes, procedures, and policies are written down and publicly available. The lack of written policies and procedures feeds designed incompetence and allows for creativity in being out of compliance with legislated mandates.
- Eliminate the labor union protections. Government employees have negotiated plentiful benefits, working conditions, and pay without union representation. The union’s ability to get criminal complaints dropped and worthless people their jobs back is an ultimate disgrace upon the Magna Carta of this The United States of America generally and upon the Department of Veterans Affairs’ specifically.
- Give the VA-OIG power to enact change when cause and effect analysis shows a person is a problem. Right now, the office of inspector general has the ability to make recommendations that are generally, sometimes, potentially, considered, and possible remediations adopted, maybe at some future point in time, provided a different course of action is not discovered before the next inspection. This insipid flim-flam charade must end! People need to be held liable and accountable for how they perform their duties!
- Launch a VA University for employees and prospective employees to attend to gain the skills, education, and practical experience needed to be effective in their role. I know from painful experience how worthless the training provided to VA new hire employees is, which is critical to employee success. You cannot hold front-line employees liable until it can be proven they know their job. Employee training cannot occur and be effective without leadership dedicated to learning the job the right way and then performing that job in absolute compliance to the laws, policies, and procedures governing that role. Training is a leadership function; how can supervisors be promoted and not know the position they are overseeing; a process which is too frequent in government employment.
I – Care about the VA!
When will the elected officials show you care and begin to help improve the plight of veterans, their dependents, and their families?
© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn: