WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) – ranking member and chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – and U.S. Representatives Mike Bost (R-Ill.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.) – chairman and ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee – are pressing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for answers on their use of a critical skill incentive (CSI) authority in the PACT Act.
“We write to express our disappointment at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) misuse of the [CSI] authority,” the committees’ leaders wrote in a letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough. “Contrary to congressional intent, incentives were used to boost pay of senior executives at VA rather than bolster staffing for critical shortage positions requiring highly skilled individuals.”
To make certain VA could handle an increase in demand of care and benefits from newly-eligible toxic-exposed veterans, the PACT Act included provisions to bolster VA’s workforce capacity. This included a CSI authority that was intended to improve staffing of positions requiring critical or high-demand skills essential to the day-to-day operations at VA, such as human resources specialists, information technology professionals, police officers, and housekeepers, which have faced hiring shortages for years. During a recent review of expenditures, VA identified it had misdirected $9.7 million of these incentives to certain career senior executives who work at VA headquarters without ensuring the payments met the criteria of the PACT Act authority.
“VA leadership managing the program clearly did not follow the intended procedures and guardrails that facilities in the field were required to follow,” the committee leaders continued. “We expect a much higher level of due diligence, oversight, and planning at this executive level. VA must strengthen its internal controls and management structures to ensure authorities provided by Congress do not suffer from similar carelessness.”
The members plan to pursue additional oversight and more aggressive safeguards on existing and future authorities to ensure this mishap never happens again, and support a full review by the VA Office of Inspector General.
The leaders also acknowledged some of the successes behind this authority: “…we are heartened that, according to the Department’s data, more than $100 million has been used as Congress intended for staff in human resources, security, and housekeeping.” While VA is cancelling all CSI payments made to career senior executives at VA headquarters, the CSI payments made to employees in the field will be retained.
The leaders concluded their letter by requesting the department provide the committees with critical information needed to provide oversight on this mismanagement, including:
- Any guidance shared with VA headquarters and the field on CSI, including the criteria they used for qualification for these payments;
- The justification VA used to initially approve CSI payments to career senior executives at VA headquarters and the offices that approved them;
- A summary of the process VA will use to cancel and recoup all CSI payments made to career senior executives at VA headquarters; and
- VA’s timeline for plans to strengthen oversight and program controls to prevent the occurrence of similar incentive mismanagement.
Read the leaders’ full letter HERE.
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