Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 1

Angry Wet ChickenThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has really outdone themselves this week.  I am used to being ashamed of what passes for leadership and administrators at the VA, but this week, they have surpassed themselves.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) filled my inbox with seven investigations results, and the reports of leadership failure should leave every American weeping and madder than wet chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids!

  • A Hope Mills, North Carolina man, Daniel Bruce Ross, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for conspiring to accept bribe payments in exchange for the performance of official acts while working as a federal government employee. Ross previously pled guilty to the charge.  He was also ordered to pay $21,520.00 in restitution.”

Accepting bribes, shameful misconduct, and while I certainly agree with the need for punishment, why does this sentence appear light?  Did the bribe recipient make a deal?  If so, as Paul Harvey would say, “Where is the rest of the story?”

VA 3The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), had their quality assurance program inspected, and the results, oh these results… the VBA administrators should be fired!  There are no excuses sufficiently valid to hide this behavior!

  • To ensure claims decisions are accurate and consistent so veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled, VBA established a multifaceted quality assurance program. The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviewed the quality assurance program and identified a systemic weakness in oversight and accountability… The VA-OIG found that while VBA’s quality assurance program routinely identified claims-processing deficiencies and communicated results to internal and external stakeholders, the Office of Field Operations did not ensure that regional office employees took adequate corrective actions to address the deficiencies identified” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Did you catch that, the leadership who set up the quality assurance program, built into the program a loophole to allow them to not act upon the deficiencies discovered.  Talk about designed incompetence, ineptitude, and outright fallacious behavior!  When a bad decision is made by the VBA, especially due to poor quality assurance, the veteran is out time, money, and resources to gather “new and material evidence” to ask the VBA to review their original decision!  Never are the VBA employees who cost the veteran, ever held accountable, responsible, or made to suffer in kind for their atrocious behavior, and I want my elected representatives to start asking why!

VA SealThe failures of the quality assurance team are not new, 22 July 2020, the VA-OIG found:

    1. …QRT specialists did not identify a significant number of claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Based on a statistical sample, the OIG estimated that 9,900 of the 28,400 quality reviews (35 percent) completed during the review period contained missed claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Quality reviews with identified errors are routed to another QRT specialist for peer review to help ensure the cited errors are The OIG determined that the current peer review process was not adequate to identify errors missed during the initial quality review. In addition, performance reviews of QRT specialists did not promote competency, resulting in missed claims-processing errors.”
    2. Worse, in direct violation of VBA procedures errors identified by QRT specialists, were overturned by regional office managers with 870 errors found where 430 were overturned (49.43%). Why were the regional managers not fired for violating policy?  The VA-OIG continued, stating:

Reconsiderations are requested by employees when they disagree with a cited error. Errors affect employee quality for performance review purposes. The OIG found that VBA’s current procedure regarding requests for reconsideration did not promote objectivity or contribute to accuracy of decisions. In addition, incorrectly overturned errors resulted in inaccurate performance quality for employees.”  Can someone say, Quid Pro Quo?  Should not questions arise about cherry-picking results and holding people accountable?  What about the veterans affected by these quality errors?  Who fights for them when the VA-OIG reports these obscene details and failures in leadership?  Each incorrectly decisioned claim is going to hurt real people, where are the elected representatives?

    1. In reading this report, my favorite quote is made:

The OIG estimated that during the review period 2,000 of 4,400 identified errors (45 percent) were not corrected in a timely manner and 810 of 4,400 identified errors (18 percent) were not corrected at all. In addition, there is no process to confirm that corrective action was taken on error corrections. To maximize the effectiveness of the QRT program, additional oversight, objectivity, and accountability should be established.”  Can you say, “DUH!”  Talk about designing incompetence into a procedure to ensure no responsibility ever hits you, the process can identify errors, but cannot ensure the errors were corrected.  What an asinine and inane bureaucratic trick!

VA 3The following has been a review of the VBA’s quality assurance program, investigated in 2020, for failures of such immense magnitude that the VA-OIG returned, less than a year later asking questions about the VBA’s quality assurance oversight, and the problems only worsened as a deeper dive was made into what governs the quality program at the VBA.  Further supporting that the leadership IS the problem in every branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Plato 2The following is a recap of findings by the VA-OIG regarding the continued mistreatment of VA Employees who report allegations of misconduct, retaliation, or poor performance of senior leaders, and other issues to the whistleblower program at the VA.  This topic is of particular interest to me, as when I called the VA-OIG regarding criminal misconduct by senior VA leaders, I was told since I was no longer an employee whistleblower protection do not apply and an investigation cannot proceed.  Since I had been reporting problems since 2018, I asked if those investigations would continue, and was told no, as I was no longer employed.  Hence, a loophole is built into the rules and policies, you have to somehow remain employed to be considered a whistleblower, but not just an employee.  You must be an employee who is not under probationary periods which can last from 1-5 years depending upon the position from date of hire.

Plato 3The following are findings highlighted from the report on the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) and delivered to Congress:

    • Finding 1: The OAWP Misinterpreted Its Statutory Mandate, Resulting in Failures to Act Within Its Investigative Authority
      1. The lawyers were reading the policies and interpreting their intent too strictly and this was chilling whistleblowers at all levels of the VA.
    • Finding 2: The OAWP Did Not Consistently Conduct Procedurally Sound, Accurate, Thorough, and Unbiased Investigations and Related Activities
      1. The OAWP lacked comprehensive policies and procedures suitable for its personnel given that individuals’ reputations are at stake and whistleblowers’ identities must be protected.
      2. The OAWP did not have quality control measures. While some inadequacies were found by disciplinary officials and VA’s Office of General Counsel, this de facto oversight was not an effective or sustainable solution.
      3. The OAWP had failed to provide the staffing and training necessary to ensure it has the expertise, experience, and commitment that yield objective and thorough investigations.
      4. The OAWP had fallen short of its commitment to conduct “timely, thorough, and unbiased investigations” in all cases within its investigative jurisdiction.
    • Finding 3: VA Has Struggled with Implementing the Act’s Enhanced Authority to Hold Covered Executives Accountable
    • Finding 4: The OAWP Failed to Fully Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation
    • Finding 5: VA Did Not Comply with Additional Requirements of the Act and Other Authorities
    • Finding 6: The OAWP Lacked Transparency in Its Information Management Practices

VA 3Is the problem clearer; the official investigative arm of the VA has the same leadership problems as the rest of the VA, and those leaders cannot, or will not, properly train staff to do their jobs!  How many employees have been unfairly dismissed by the VA because they reported to the OIG, like they are supposed to do, and retaliatory actions by senior leadership has cost them a job, their professional reputation, and the VA a chance to improve?

Knowledge Check!I can find no media discussion on this report to Congress where the elected officials took any action to hold anyone accountable.  The speech being reported is milk-toast solid and should have led to public remonstrations and it did not even cause a ripple in a toilet bowl.  Meaning that the legislation from 2017 and earlier is still being thwarted by the VA administration and administrators to the detriment of the VA and the employees discharged who did their job and reported on problems witnessed.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Information Security Report – VA Administration is STILL Failing!

VA 3Since the first time the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) lost my identity, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive incident, I have monitored the VA’s data security practices.  Let’s say I have a vested interest in data security, having lost thousands of dollars to identity thieves and having been bankrupted twice!  Thus, imagine my surprise when today, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) released the annual audit results of the VA’s information security practices as required by the “Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA)” and saw the VA remains out of compliance!  Not just a little out of compliance, but so far out of compliance that they have aged issues that are almost old enough to drink.

ApathyThe annual audit is conducted by a third-party, “CliftonLarsonAllen LLP,” who audited 48 major applications and general support systems hosted at 24 VA sites that support the VBA, VHA, and National Cemetery administrations.  The VA-OIG reports the following:

The firm concluded that VA continues to face significant challenges meeting FISMA requirements and made 26 recommendations for improving VA’s information security program. Specifically, VA should address security-related issues that contributed to the information technology material weakness reported in the FY 2020 audit of VA’s consolidated financial statements, improve deployment of security patches, system upgrades, and system configurations that will mitigate significant security vulnerabilities and enforce a consistent process across all field offices. The firm also recommended VA improve performance monitoring to ensure controls are operating as intended at all facilities and communicate identified security deficiencies so the appropriate personnel can mitigate significant risks” [emphasis mine].

Is the connection between application and administration clear?  The security deficiencies cannot even get assigned to the right people because organizational communication is ineffective, unclear, and atrociously designed to create designed incompetence or a ready-made excuse for failure!  Material weaknesses have been carried forward from one fiscal year (FY) to another since the first breach of data security, e.g., the unencrypted hard drive episode.  The administration has a second built-in designed incompetence issue, material deficiencies, even though since 1995, the VA has been “upgrading its IT infrastructure to meet the needs of today’s veterans!”  The VA has bragged about how technically up to date they are, but the audit continues to find material weaknesses leading to data insecurity!

Police and Government Lines of CongruenceWhile the VA deserves congratulations on closing two antique audit items, they were expected to close ALL aged items during the 2020 FY.  Yet, the administrators were still able to skate responsibility, skirt accountability, and act like Sonja Henie at Oslo.  Tell me, if your boss expected you to complete a bunch of items, gave you a full year to complete these items, would you be fired for only completing two items?  I know I would!  As a project manager, if I didn’t have a plan in writing, showing completion dates, inter-relationships, and explicit action items set up within 30-days of being assigned the tasks, I would have been fired!  Yet, somehow these VA Administrators, hired to perform these functions by the Government, cannot even communicate, let alone accomplish tasks assigned!  Who were the project managers, contract officers, and program managers, and their respective administration officials, line them up and fire them!

Detective 4The VA-OIG reports, “Despite VA’s commitment that the recommendations would be closed, some of them have been repeated for multiple years [emphasis mine].”  Is the connection between the administration officials, their assigned workers, and the failures and designed incompetence clearly observed?  I ask because the VA-OIG closed this report with the most useless conclusion I have seen in years of reading these reports!  “The VA-OIG remains concerned that continuing delays in effectively addressing the recommendations could contribute to reporting a material weakness in VA’s information technology security controls during the FY 2021 audit of the department’s consolidated financial statements [emphasis mine].”

Of course, the continued foot-dragging, skating, and designed incompetence will lead to problems in information security, cost veterans their identities and thousands of dollars individually, and continue to make the veterans victims of identity theft!  How could you think this would not happen?  “Hello!!!  McFly, is anyone home?”

Angry Grizzly BearThat the VA administrators continue to hinder improvement at the VA should be grounds for immediate dismissal!  Yet, these administrators are allowed to retire with full benefits, cushy benefits packages, and the veteran is left with nothing!  Where is Congress in enacting legislation that enables the Government to reduce, remove, or refuse a retirement package for administration employees who cannot or will not act in a manner that reflects competence and ability in following congressional demands and meeting operational standards?  Where is Congress working with the VA Secretary on productivity problems caused by administrators who actively hinder improvements at the VA?  Why is designed incompetence even allowed as an excuse for failure?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Speaking of Administration (Bureaucrats) in Government

I want to send congratulations to the US District Attorney’s Office – District of New Jersey; they have uncovered a fraud scheme worth $93 Million in kickback frauds, bribery, and theft of taxpayer monies; this is good news for the United States.  From me, you have my deepest thanks!

Some significant details are missing from this report, and I would expect these details to have been made public:

      1. How many of those charged were employees of Medicare, TRICARE, and CHAMPVA?
      2. How long was this scheme in place before discovery?
      3. How was this scheme discovered?
      4. Who was offered immunity from prosecution to turn traitor and open the doors to the scheme? Why?

One partial question was answered, “From March 2018 to October 2019, several conspirators withdrew money from the scheme approximately $1.6 Million.”  I guess this is as good a time as any to remind everyone that under the law, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  Five people are charged in this case, where two others have admitted guilt, bringing the total of people involved to seven.

Some things might be slightly different from my time in government procurement, US Army, and US Navy.  I know that when you use the same provider more than two or three times in a single quarter of a fiscal year, someone should be asking a bunch of why questions and checking the contract.  Yet, to the best of my understanding of the case details as provided, this was not occurring.  Thus, more questions need to be raised:

      1. Who are the contracting officers in this case for the government agencies most affected by the fraud?
      2. Who are the supervisors of the contracting officers who allowed these abnormalities to exist without question?
      3. Who is reviewing the contracts to improve protection against fraud in the future?

Remember, no employment details were provided for those charged to see who was/is a government employee and who was/is not.  But, with Medicare, TRICARE, and CHAMPVA all involved, there should be a lot more details coming forth, and as of today (28 April 2021), there is nothing more available.  Bringing more questions to the front:

      1. Where is the media covering another government fraud case? Surely this should be of interest to every media outlet since the scheme covered at least some of President Trump’s tenure.  You would presume the media’s Trump Derangement Syndrome would have kicked-in to plaster this news nationwide.
      2. Where are the investigative reporters tasked with finding the details, rooting out the causes, and spurring politicians to action to “fix the government?”
      3. Where are the politicians, those who had to be notified about this case, in praising the DA’s office, clambering for justice for the taxpayer, and promising that these people involved will face stern justice? Or are these politicians silent because it doesn’t allow them to play a race/sex/gender card?

Healthcare fraud remains the number one issue for Medicare and the VA to tackle, as well as TRICARE, Tri-West, CHAMPVA, and every other government healthcare agency.  The problem lies in how the administrators do their jobs, affect policy, and scrutinize their employees.  Yet, every government healthcare fraud case leaves out the details of what the agencies will change to avoid future problems and prevent similar schemes.

      1. When will the heads of these government healthcare agencies be hauled in front of Congress to testify about healthcare fraud, and why they continue to refuse to follow the law laid down by Congress?
      2. When will Congress develop a spine and hold these bureaucrat administrators accountable for the failure of their agencies to protect the taxpayer from fraud, bribery, theft, and other healthcare scams that only make problems worse and cost billions in dollars annually?
      3. Where are the politicians who are sick to death of seeing fraud occur and not seeing action by those placed to head these organizations?

As an employee, two other employees and I signed a letter claiming that the processes being followed by the Emergency Department of the VA Hospital in Albuquerque, NM., were violating the Fraud, Waste, and Abuse of the government.  We proposed changes that would improve patient care, increase employee productivity, and increase the security of patient HIPAA information.  The HAS Administrator refused even to consider the letter, even with favorable approval from the supervisor.  I sent the letter to the hotline, the specific place every poster in government buildings tells people to contact when you witness fraud, waste, and abuse in government.  My answer was crickets!  Then, I was terminated from employment; that is how the VA administrators treat employees who try to raise the bar in performance and reduce fraud, waste, and abuse.  See, if you are not an employee, you cannot be a whistle-blower.  Nice loophole for administrators to employ to threaten, cajole, Quid Pro Quo, and protect themselves from accountability!

      1. When will the administrators be held accountable for the fraud, waste, and abuse experienced in their agencies?
      2. When will the taxpayer be vindicated and receive just consideration of rights and accountability for taxpayer dollars wasted, stolen, and debt increased without cause?

Please do not allow the tone of this article to produce a fraudulent thought; I have no problems with the government helping its citizens.  But I demand better accountability and responsibility from those few selected to lead the agencies involved.  I demand higher accountability from the politicians, who chose to run for office, and whose job it is to scrutinize the government!  I demand a complete and accurate accounting for my tax dollar, and this should not be a complex action for any government to make.  When fraud is your number one issue and has been since your agency was launched, I would expect some progress to have been made in processes, procedures, and standards by now, and I do not see any of this occurring!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.