Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Are VA Executives Gaming the System?

A high-ranking VA executive who moved from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia last year was given nearly $300,000 as a "relocation bonus."

It is all part of a little-known program used to give an incentive to "highly qualified candidates."

For us out West who might not know it, Washington, D.C., is 139 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, if we were to drive there.

That's about the same driving distance as Sacramento, California, to Reno, Nevada. Basically, not that far.

So why does it take almost $300,000 taxpayer dollars to move 139 miles when we have Veterans going without their just dues?

Well, that's the question people are now asking Diana Rubens, the former undersecretary for field operations, who was paid $288,000 last year under what’s called the Appraised Value Offer (AVO) program to take a job as the director of the Philadelphia VA regional benefits office.

Formerly known as the Guaranteed Home Buy Out program, the AVO serves as a back-up for Veterans Administration (VA) and Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees who agree to relocate to take jobs at other stations.

Rubens’ massive payout -- which is $270,000 more than the agency’s average relocation payment -- was brought to light last month by Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“The government shouldn't be in the business of doling out hundreds of thousands in cash to extremely well-compensated executives just to move less than three hours down the road,” Rep Miller said last month.

“For VA to pay such an outrageous amount in relocation expenses at a time when the department is continually telling Congress and taxpayers it needs more money raises questions about VA’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, transparency and true reform.”

The VA’s internal statistics show that Rubens, who oversaw 57 regional benefits offices in her previous job, presided over a massive increase in processing times for veterans’ claims.

When asked about Rubens’ payment, the VA did not clarify what caused it to be so high, saying only that it was related to house closing costs, relocation expenses and per-diem allowances. But a spokesman for the agency recently confirmed that the payout was largely tied to the AVO program.

Under the VA's AVO program, employees obtain appraisals from two approved realtors. The house must sit on the market for at least 60 days. If it doesn't sell in that period, a contractor hired by the VA purchases it for the appraised value.

The VA spokesman explained that Rubens’ relocation payment was a “function of the high cost of homes in the Washington, D.C. area.”

So yes, in other words, the American Taxpayer pays for the homes of Federal government agency executives. Sweet deal!

Not surprising is the fact that the spokesman declined to provide more detail on the AVO program or how it can be manipulated to the advantage of those high paid executives in need of a new home. 

A review of Rubens’ transactions for her Virginia home and the one she purchased in Pennsylvania does not shed light on why her relocation payment was so high.

Rubens purchased her house in Alexandria, Va. for $697,000 in 2008. 

A real estate listing from June 2014 shows that Rubens’ home was put on the market for $799,900. The house did not sell to a third-party buyer and so was sold to Stone Financing LLC. for $770,000.

Rubens’ initial listing for the house conforms to AVO requirement that the listed price of the house must also fall within 105 percent of the average of the two appraisals.

Stone Financing is a wholly owned subsidiary of Brookfield GRS, the "relocation services provider" contracted for the VA’s AVO program.

Does anyone but me see a "conflict of interest" here?

Stone Financing did not sell Rubens’ house until February. When it did, the company took a large loss, according to real estate records. 

The house sold for $692,500. Rubens bought a house near her new station in Haverford, Pa. for $589,000 on Sept. 29, 2014, according to real estate records.

Asked how it came to be that Stone Financing took a $77,500 loss on the housing transaction, a spokeswoman for Brookfield declined comment.

So what's that all about? Why "decline to comment"? Could it be that they are compensated in other ways?

The VA spokesman declined to answer whether the agency absorbs its contractors’ losses.

Butthe spokesman did say, “The cost of [Rubens'] relocation was a function of the high cost of homes in the Washington DC area. The costs that are incurred in any AVO relocation reflect the relative costs of housing in the area from which the individual is relocating.”

Now here's the problem that I have with government agencies that respond to stories like this, their spin to justify the unjustifiable! 

The same VA spokesman had the nerve to say, “Ms. Rubens is one of Veterans Benefits Administration’s most experienced and highly skilled 'senior leaders,' having led the operations of VBA’s entire field organization for many years. In filling the position of the Director of the Philadelphia Regional Office, VA recognized that its very best leader was needed to address the complex challenges and issues faced by the office and its employees.” 

Friends, in 2014, the VA had 340,000 full-time employees. That is a 56% increase in just 13 years, from 219,000 to 341,000 employees. 

So really, are they seriously going to tell the American people that there is absolutely no other employee, especially from the Philadelphia area, who can do her job and save the American people almost $300,000 in bonus money?

This sounds like the case since Rubens received more than $97,000 in bonuses between 2007 and 2011, during a period when the average time to process Veterans’ claims doubled to 325 days.

The ratio of backlogged cases nearly doubled as well, from 37% in 2009 to 71% in 2013.

Is there a Good Old Girls Club in the Veterans Administration these days?  Is Diana Rubens part of the "Old Girls" who have friends in high places so she just gets the bonuses every few years?  
As part of their "relocation incentive" programs, VA and VBA offers a “relocation bonus” for some employees who agree to take new jobs in different geographical areas.

According to the VA’s handbook, relocating employees who are "desperately needed" can earn a bonus of up to 100 percent of their most recent annual salary if they sign on for a minimum of four years., a website that tracks federal employees’ salaries, shows that Rubens was paid $181,000 as her base salary in 2014. 

When asked whether Rubens received such a bonus, the VA spokesman again declined to comment.

I'm sorry for what some will surely call my insensitivity for civilian government workers, but frankly their "relocation incentive" should be their keeping their job! 

In a time of high unemployment in the private sector which pays the salaries of government workers, there should be no bonuses at all for any civilian government worker.

Frankly, giving a government employee almost $300,000 as some sort of "incentive" to relocate 139 miles is just criminal horseshit. 

While she is human and probably has no problem taking advantage of the situation since it is available to her, and she works for people dumb enough to give it to her, I really don't blame her for taking advantage of the situation. 

And heck, if she relocated again and again and again, she could make millions of dollars off the dumbasses she works for.

In all fairness, if others are doing it and she is entitled to it, sure I can see why she would jump at taking the enormous bonus money. 

Friends, there are a lot of people out there who take advantage of a situation just because it is legal. 

They don't care about whether it's morally right or wrong, or if it says a great deal about their pathetic character to take a bonus while others are facing cuts. 

They see it as OK, even if it isn't morally right -- because they see it as simply being legally in the right. 

Friends, the Obama White House wants to cut our Military's salaries by 20% and cut their retirement pay by 20%.

In a time when government waste is astronomical and Obama wants to cut the salaries of our troops, Federal government programs of giving extravagant bonuses to executives in the government is a spit in the eye to every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine in uniform.

Friends, the system is screwed up when the Obamas as a family have spent over 44 Million Dollars in taxpayer money on personal travel, personal trips, and personal vacations.

It is screwed up when an Obama administration executive, a civilian government worker, can get a $288,000 bonus for moving a mere 140 miles, while our troops are now looking at having their salaries cut by the Obama administration. 

Bottom line, I hate writing about this sort of thing because I know that the vast majority of VA employees out there are simply wonderful Americans doing a great job for Veterans.

But if someone was to ask me if I think the Obama White House, or if the people the Obama administration has as government agency executives, really cares that their extravagant spending is a slap to our troops who are now facing cuts -- I'd have to say I honestly don't think they give a damn.  

And to that, shame on them.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment.