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VA exec finds no reason to fire 2 in $400K jobs scheme

| Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

WASHINGTON — A Veterans Affairs official this week defended the department's decision to demote but not fire two senior executives who collected $400,000 in a relocation scheme, and pushed back sharply against lawmakers for pressing for punishment rather than accountability for the VA workforce.

“In my many years in the private sector, I've never encountered an organization where leadership was measured by how many people you fired,” Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson told the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

“You can't fire your way to excellence.”

Exhibit A at a hearing called to press VA officials on why they have had limited success firing or disciplining employees accused of misconduct was the case of Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves.

The senior executives were demoted one rank down to GS 15 on the General Schedule in November in response to allegations that they manipulated VA's hiring system for their own gain.

The agency's deputy inspector general found in a report this fall that Rubens and Graves forced lower-ranking regional managers to accept job transfers against their will. The women then took the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay but reducing their responsibility as regional managers in the Veterans Benefits Administration.

But Gibson, reading from prepared testimony, said the inspector general's office exaggerated the actions, which the watchdog's office has referred to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.

“We won't administer punishment based on IG opinions, referrals to the Department of Justice, recycled and embellished media accounts, or external pressure,” Gibson said. “It's simply not right, and it's not in the best interest of the veterans we serve.”

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