Tester, Moran, Colleagues Demand Swift Action to Remedy VA’s Misuse of PACT Act Workforce Authority

Senators to VA: “While Congress will continue to conduct vigorous oversight and enforce Congressional intent in these and all matters, accountable leadership cannot be legislated…VA must take aggressive steps to ensure transparency and accountability.”

(U.S. Senate) – Continuing their push to provide robust oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are leading a bipartisan group of their Committee colleagues to demand immediate action and accountability after VA misspent millions of taxpayer dollars. This follows a recent report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) detailing the misuse of a PACT Act workforce authority to inappropriately increase the salaries of senior executives at VA’s Central Office (VACO) in Washington, D.C.

“VA’s flagrant misuse of recruitment and retention incentives intended to improve the provision of health care and benefits for veterans by bolstering VA’s front-line workforce is unacceptable and deeply concerning,” the Committee members wrote in a letter to VA Secretary McDonough.

While the critical skill incentive (CSI) authority from the PACT Act was intended to strengthen the delivery of health care and benefits to veterans by providing incentives to retain highly-skilled, rank-and-file employees across the country, including human resources staff, police officers, and housekeepers in VA, the OIG report found that VA misused this important authority to provide monetary awards to certain VACO executives. “The use of this important authority to instead increase the salaries of executives in VACO is unethical, a violation of VA policy, and in direct opposition to the intent of Congress,” wrote the Senators. Overall, VA improperly awarded 182 VACO executives CSI payments totaling $10.8 million.

The OIG found that some of the CSI payment recipients were involved in the decision-making process that led to the awards, and the Senators underscored their serious concerns with even the appearance of ethical conflict of interest violations.

The Senators continued, “An essential component of any high-reliability organization is fostering a culture and expectation where subject matter experts, regardless of rank, are able and comfortable speaking truth to power – and creating that culture starts at the top. This report must serve as the beginning of the end of these inconsistent management and oversight structures and an opportunity to strengthen the Department.”

In addition to requesting VA swiftly implement the OIG’s recommendations - including taking appropriate administrative actions for personnel involved in the process of granting CSI awards to VACO executives without proper justification - the Senators also requested regular updates on the Department’s investigations and administrative actions against these employees, the recoupment status of all improperly awarded CSIs, a breakdown of all CSI payments to date across VA, and the justification paperwork for CSI awards for amounts greater than $30,000.

The Senators concluded, “[C]omplying swiftly with the OIG recommendation related to accountability is just the first step towards righting this wrong and preventing similar wrongdoing in the future. There is more work to be done to regain the trust of veterans, VA’s broader workforce, Congress, and the public…While Congress will continue to conduct vigorous oversight and enforce Congressional intent in these and all matters, accountable leadership cannot be legislated. In an effort to regain the public’s trust, VA must take aggressive steps to ensure transparency and accountability throughout the enterprise.”

The bipartisan letter was also signed by the Committee leaders’ fellow Committee members Senators Patty Murray (D-Wash.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.), and Angus King (I-Maine).

 Read the Committee members’ full letter HERE.