Former VA execs land lucrative contracts
When a top Department of Veterans Affairs official in Texas quit in early 2010 after a bruising fight with a whistle-blower, he didn't wait long to find a job to replace his nearly $180,000 paycheck.
Timothy Shea began consulting almost immediately for the Pittsburgh-based VA region, teaching administrators earning six-figure salaries how to conduct business, he told the Tribune-Review.
Shea said he didn't know whether his relationship with Michael Moreland — the VA administrator for nearly all or parts of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, West Virginia and Ohio — influenced his hiring. Moreland's North Shore headquarters office approved the contracts, records show.
Moreland, who declined to be interviewed for this article, and Shea started as social workers almost three decades ago at the VA medical center in Lebanon County.
A Trib investigation found that Shea is among more than a dozen former VA employees hired as subcontractors in recent years to tell VA hospital officials how to run their operations. For example, the VA Pittsburgh paid $24,200 just for one month of management consulting in 2010.
“They put them out to pasture and they return as coaches and consultants,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “It's a self-perpetuating process.”
A spokesman for the VA in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
Shea said retired government officials often secure work as consultants because of their expertise. He said such work often involves firms significantly larger than Sinclair Advisory Group, which helped him land the work.
The VA did not award Shea's contracts directly to him; they were among more than 160 throughout the VA health system signed with Watkins Sinclair LLC of Bethesda, Md., which now operates as Sinclair Advisory Group of Herndon, Va.
Sinclair Advisory Group is a small firm headed by former VA official Stan Sinclair. The company recruited at least 14 former VA executives to become consultants. They work under an umbrella General Services Administration contract awarded to Sinclair Advisory Group.
The company and its predecessor won $8.39 million in federal contracts since 2006, including $7.29 million for VA work.
The company name changed after a VA Inspector General's report in 2010 criticized the operation for receiving no-bid contracts with little or no documentation by the VA regional district covering Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
Watkins Sinclair won most of the sole-source contracts because VA executives contended it was the only American company qualified to do the work. That claim was “not supported by the documentation,” the Inspector General said.
Following the report, VA officials promised to strictly follow bidding regulations.
Stan Sinclair told the Trib there's nothing unusual about retired government executives winning consulting contracts. He emphasized that the Inspector General report criticized the VA health system, not his company.
Sinclair said his experience in working for the VA — as deputy undersecretary for benefits, one of the agency's top jobs — affords his company “no special treatment.”
VA officials were reluctant to discuss Sinclair Advisory Group's efforts.
At first, officials in Washington said they would provide information on contracts awarded to Veterans Integrated Service Network 4, the Pittsburgh-based regional office. The Trib provided the VA with a spreadsheet showing differences between total dollar amounts in two government databases that list at least 12 contracts awarded to Sinclair Advisory Group in the region since July 2010.
VA officials said they hoped to provide the limited information requested without delay. Two weeks later, officials said they could supply the information only if the newspaper filed a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act. That process can take several months.
Shea told the Trib he received consulting contracts at four regional hospitals. Moreland's spokesman, David Cowgill, acknowledged that Sinclair Advisory Group had contracts to coach administrators for $24,200, $85,500 and $28,500.
The monetary amounts Cowgill provided, however, do not match those in the databases of the GSA and the Office of Management and Budget. Those offices show contracts amounting to at least $500,000 — and possibly more than $800,000 — awarded since 2010.
William Boyle, Moreland's former chief financial officer, became a consultant through Sinclair Advisory Group for the Philadelphia VA system upon his retirement in 2009. Moreland's office approved Boyle's $80,658 no-bid contract on Aug. 8, 2012.
To explain why it sidestepped bidding, the Philadelphia VA said: “The services Mr. Boyle has already provided far outweigh the cost of this contract and would be in the best interest of the government.”
At the time, the Philadelphia VA was headed by Joseph Dalpiaz, another former social worker who worked for the VA hospital in Lebanon in the 1980s. Dalpaiz since has assumed Shea's former job as VA health regional director in central Texas. Dalpiaz could not be reached for comment.
Cowgill declined to submit proof that Sinclair Advisory Group provided materials its contracts required. He would not share copies of Sinclair invoices, records of work performed, copies of bid proposals to see how contracts were written or a list of other vendors the agency solicited.
A review of GSA documents shows that an employee in Moreland's office contracted and signed all but one of the Sinclair Advisory Group contracts for the Pittsburgh region. Sinclair was the only company bidding on eight of Pittsburgh-region contracts.
A Sinclair Advisory Group newsletter said the company teamed with the VA health system in 2011 to offer a panel discussion in Atlanta on the advantages of executive coaching. Several Sinclair advisors attended; Moreland was a speaker.
Lou Kilzer is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.