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VA Won’t Sack Chief of Staff, Despite Scathing IG Report

The Veterans Administration will not fire the official who approved the controversial VA staff training conferences in Orlando last year that cost the taxpayer some $6.1 million. This despite the scathing report from the VA’s Inspector General that found that the project was rife with waste and corruption, and represented a failure of leadership.

The IG found that the conference planners wasted some $762,000, and accepted bribes and improper gifts from vendors, in violation of federal gift rules. Among a number of other recommendations, the Inspector General recommended that Secretary Shinseki take “appropriate administrative action” against John Sepulveda, the number two-ranking executive in the VA, and against John R. Gingrich, Shinseki’s chief of staff since January of 2009. The IG report prompted Sepulveda’s resignation, effective September 30th, 2012, shortly before the IG report was to become public.

However, in the Administration’s response to the IG’s findings, the VA wrote the following:

“The Secretary has discussed the matter of the 2010 review of the proposal for the Human Resources Conferences with the COS. He has informed Mr. Gingrich that the policies and procedures that were in place to review and monitor the expenses of the conferences were inadequate and that he should have asked more questions when the proposal was submitted for authorization. The Secretary further directed the General Counsel to develop a comprehensive policy to address the issues identified in the IG’s report.”

The Secretary therefore declined to sack Gingrich.

Two Republican Congressmen, Representative Jeff Miller of Florida and Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, wrote an open letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, calling for Gingrich’s removal from his post.

“To say that [Gingrich] treated his responsibility casually is an understatement,” the letter reads, in part. “We can only conclude that Mr. Gingrich’s role was only to create the appearance of oversight, nothing more.”

There was a key difference between Mr. Sepulveda’s situation and Mr. Gingrich’s. In Gingrich’s case, he accepted partial responsibility for the conference, saying that there was ‘plenty of blame to go around,’ but “it’s my signature on that thing.”

In Mr. Sepulveda’s case, the IG found that he had made a false statement to investigators.

Gingrich retired from the Army as a colonel after a 30-year career.

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