VA Conference Waste Scandal Fallout Continues

In October 2012, the Inspector General’s (IG) office of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) issued a blockbuster report detailing appalling waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars at a pair of multimillion dollar VA training conferences in 2011. Unfortunately, since the report was published in the final weeks of the presidential campaign, it was all but overlooked by most media.

That’s a shame, because the IG report offered astonishing insight into the culture of entitlement, mismanagement and unaccountable behavior that runs rampant in the VA. We wrote extensively about the report, which led to the abrupt resignation of the VA’s top human resources executive, John Sepulveda.

Fortunately, the Washington Examiner has stayed on the case, and Monday they reported the latest development: yet another high-ranking VA official has resigned in the fall-out from the scandal. Alice Muellerweiss, who headed up the division responsible for the conferences, left the department last week.

The total cost of the conferences was at least $6.1 million, but the IG report said sloppy record-keeping by VA made it impossible to determine a precise cost figure.

The IG report singled out Muellerweiss for allowing subordinates to plan the conferences with little effort to control costs. Muellerweiss and Tonya Deanes, deputy assistant secretary for human resources, were VA’s main managers in charge of the conferences.

They reported to Sepulveda, who IG investigators said did not exercise proper oversight and made false statements when questioned about the misspending.

Sepulveda, Muellerweiss and Deanes, all blamed their subordinates, each saying day-to-day details were delegated to their underlings.

“Muellerweiss, by her own admission, knew nothing about her staff’s activities involving the planning of the conferences and remained uninvolved,” the IG report said. She also demonstrated a “lack of participation and apparent ignorance of what was taking place within her organization.”

The full IG report, which details how VA employees accepted illegal gifts, hotel upgrades, and limo and helicopter rides from government contractors, is worth reading in its entirety. It’s a clear example of how little regard some VA workers have for taxpayer dollars and ethics.

The revelations are particularly galling when you consider that the VA still boasts a gigantic backlog of benefits claims—so much so that record numbers of veterans are dying while awaiting their claims. Clearly, the entire department is in need of serious leadership and management reform to restore the VA to its mission of service to veterans.

Kudos to the Washington Examiner for keeping the spotlight on this important story when most other media outlets choose to ignore any scandal that would reflect poorly on the executive branch. We’ll be on the watch for further developments.

Talmadge Coley is a policy analyst for Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the United States Air Force.