Change: Heads finally begin rolling at VA?

posted at 6:21 pm on January 25, 2017 by Ed Morrissey

Has accountability finally arrived at the Veterans Administration? According to the Daily Caller’s Luke Rosiak, a new approach to personnel management at the beleaguered bureaucracy has begun, and it coincidentally arrived on Inauguration Day. Or perhaps not so coincidentally:

Days into Donald Trump’s administration, heads are finally beginning to roll at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Two notoriously corrupt employees in Puerto Rico were fired this week, indicating that more may be on the way.

One is the hospital’s CEO, DeWayne Hamlin, who offered an employee $305,000 to quit after she played a role in exposing his drug arrest.

“Mr. DeWayne Hamlin was removed from federal service effective January 20, 2017”–inauguration day–the VA said.

The other termination removed an even more notorious employee from the Puerto Rico VA, Elizabeth Rivera Rivera. Readers will recall that she was originally terminated after allegedly taking part in an armed robbery — and then reinstated with back pay. At the time, then-Undersecretary David Shulkin explained to Congress that federal law constrained the VA from firing Rivera:

“I have clarified my statement, and will be formally responding to the committee,” Shulkin said, “but it is equally important to me that I provide the facts and set the record straight for our veterans, employees and the general public who entrust us with the care of the nation’s veterans and who expect us to be open and honest with them.”…

“In accordance with federal law, criminal prosecution or conviction for off-duty misconduct does not automatically disqualify an individual from federal employment,” Shulkin said. “As is true in private-sector employment, a federal employee generally cannot be terminated for off-duty misconduct unless there is a clear connection between the misconduct and the individual’s employment.”

Now, of course, Secretary Robert McDonald has left the VA, and Trump has appointed his replacement … David Shulkin. Presumably, Shulkin’s temporarily running the show until his formal confirmation. So why the change now? For one thing, as Rosiak notes, the VA took a closer look at Rivera and found out that she hadn’t disclosed other arrests at the time of her hiring. Perhaps that and Hamlin’s termination are just happy coincidences, or perhaps Shulkin just feels a lot less constrained by federal law than he did last year. Hmmmm.

If the new administration’s in a firing mood, then perhaps they should also look to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the pet project of Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama that got implemented in Dodd-Frank. The Daily Caller’s Justin Caruso reports that its chief Richard Cordray has apparently taken a page from Hillary Clinton and kept his official text messages off of official government devices — and away from the legitimate oversight of Congress and the courts:

Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), used a private device for government communications, and didn’t create appropriate records of those messages with the bureau, according to documents obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller. …

A source told TheDC that he submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in August 2016 for more than a year’s worth of text messages on official devices to and from various CFPB staffers.

The bureau responded that there were no records on any “CFPB issued or CFPB reimbursed devices” for any text messages sent or received associated with Cordray.

So … maybe Cordray never sent any text messages? Actually, the data shows that other CFPB officials did conduct text conversations with Cordray, but on a private device, and Cordray never submitted them for the record as required by federal law. The CFPB acknowledged as much in a response to a FOIA request:

Well, that’s certainly curious. The CFPB tried passing this off as an occasional use of a private device under unusual circumstances, which is allowed — but then the official is required to submit those records to be archived under the Federal Records Act. When the Daily Caller pointed out to CFPB that their records contained no entries for Cordray’s text messages, indicating that he’s never used his official government-supplied device for texting, they quit responding to the DC’s queries.

The fix for this is pretty simple, from Cordray’s end — submit the records and start using his assigned phone. If Cordray’s not willing to do that, and explain why he’s not using the proper platform for his communications, then there’s reason to impose accountability by termination.


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