tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN November 7, 2015 4:00am-6:01am EST
>> good evening, everybody. thank you for being here tonight to discuss for the 2nd time the va inspector general's final report entitled an appropriate use of position and misuse of relocation program and incentives. we are holding a 2nd hearing tonight because the witnesses we had requested to appear before this committee at the hearing on 21 october chose not to attend or blocked by the
department of veterans affairs from attending. their failure to appear let us to unanimously vote on an issue subpoenas to compel their testimony, something we have never done before. the five
individuals we issued subpoenas to her danny pommel, diana reubens kimberly graves, robert mckendrick, antoine waller. as we learned at our last hearing, the ig report plays out the alleged abuse of the relocation expense and permanent change of station programs costing hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money. and how they apparently inappropriately use the positions of authority to put their own personal and financial benefit ahead of
veterans, taxpayers commander subordinates. the picture is worth a thousand words, so let's start with the map and let me describe the simplest terms. >>
let's hearing is all about. initially this graves and mr. waller discussed his potential transfer to philadelphia. those discussions are eventually shelved. then this reubens transfers from headquarters to fill the now vacant family job and receives about $270,000 relocation assistance. mr. waller is subsequently transferred to become the baltimore harbor director. in this graves the transfer
some her position as the eastern area director and philadelphia to fill the now vacant st. paul are director job and receives about $129,000 and relocation assistance. finally they both retained their salaries despite assuming the responsibility jobs. it seems to me the use of the relocation expense program is an expensive and confusing waste of taxpayer money given that they both volunteered to take his positions. as my colleague pointed out, relocation expenses were exorbitantly more than the highest-ranking military officials you see when they are ordered to move. i am glad that the va has hit the pause button. this ought to be scrapped altogether.
the report sheds light on the policy of providing relocation expenses and what i can only describe as gross and half -- haphazard abuse of the program. it also details a scheme by which transferred ses employees receive the pay raises and large incentives very little connection to the relative responsibilities for complexities plan challenges associated with the new position. as i have said before, the reporters damning in the believe it is important to get over the facts and findings of the report as well and afford our witnesses who are here tonight, visit the center of the report to have an opportunity to present their accounts of how the events transpired. this is important for our constitutional oversight duty in the departments transparency with the american people. after assuring the subpoena
i received request from representatives of some of the witnesses to postpone the hearing or at least at the very least excuse this reubens and graves from appearing today. i wish to make it clear that requiring these individuals or any individual to appear before us today is not done to embarrass them, as some may have asserted. they are here before us today because they are the subjects of this damning report, which was completed of this committee's request. they are two of the individuals who allegedly created openings in philadelphia in st. paul for there own transfers of these locations and then also benefited significantly from the va relocation program to move to the openings that they allegedly generated. yet this is not what happened and i believe a
public hearing is an ideal place tell us what did happen. this hearing is not a joke. the findings of this report provided a roadmap for further inquiry uniform. my suspicion is, this kind of behavior is rampant with throughout the department of veterans affairs but the rest of the federal government. the va must take aggressive steps to root it out, hold employees accountable and oriented, and be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. if they put halfhave the effort into pushing for true accountability or protection employees who come forces with the -- as whistleblowers as they have for the individuals investigated this report,, but i think the department be a much better place. it exists for veterans, not itself with yang justin richmond ellis.
that is why we are here tonight to ask the right questions. that is why the public and america's veterans have a right to hear these witnesses. with that witnesses. with that, i recognize the ranking member for any comments. >> thank you, mr. chairman. this is a follow-up to the committee hearing nearly two weeks ago. the report on an appropriate use of position and misuse of relocation programs and incentives. the ig report made number of serious charges. the committee is looking into the use of reallocation instead of looking into the culture of the veterans administration. it is important we get a better understanding of how they use reallocation especially when we see a va
were many important leadership positions go unfilled. we must determine whether these programs work, and, and i've ever -- and are they working as intended? if not, we must make sure that uses are meant not simply a means to our specific employees in the eye not available. to further our efforts in this area the chairman joins me am requesting that gal look into the appraisal value of our agl programs. i'm looking forward to the report in the very near future. the allegations were supposed to serious and highlight a culture of cronyism. i hope i witness will be
able to help us get to the bottom of this. we all respect the rights of any of our witnesses to avail themselves day constitutional rights they may have, but at the end of the day we simply must my answers and microforms and changes necessary to ensure that veterans come 1st. >> thank you. our 1st and only panel has the individuals already seated table. [roll call] collect kaysix, robert, robert mckendrick, director of the los angeles regional office, kimberly graves, director of the st. paul regional office, antoine waller, deputy inspector general for the va office of inspector general.
i also invited former undersecretary hickey to testify as a private citizen , as her activities were heavily featured, however she did not respond to my request. however still witnesses please stand and raise your right hand. >> do you solemnly swear under penalty of perjury that the testimony you are about to provide is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. >> thank you. you may be seated. before we start i want to read rule three, the committee's rules whereby states that each witness who is to appear like me or subway show file with the
clerk of the committee 48 hours in advance of his or her parents or at such other time as does it and mr. bumble to give us, then when i arrived in washington today i was so we will pursue by 230. then i received a two sentence summary and was told this committee will receive nothing else in the department. i'm going to read it to you. his oral statement will cover the actions to date in response to the ig report. he will discuss the accomplishments, the elimination of the end of
the program and the other of you to ensure appropriate controls. i know your not the one that made this decision, and i am surei am sure whoever that person is probably watching her listening. but it is not acceptable. i am sick and tired of asking for information from the department have been given the round to fit i was asked if he could provide testimony. i said, of course. and the reason for that is to allow members of this committee to read that testimony and be able to formulate questions that are important to that facility we don't have that. because of that i recognize you for a statement, but i
will be asking questions. >> this reubens, the ig report concluded he used your position of authority for personal and financial benefit. whatever this to you have to dispute that conclusion? >> circle i have been advised not to answer that question and to protect my rights under the fifth amendment to the constitution. >> let the record reflect that mr. has asserted her fifth amendment right against self termination. let me be clear, and to the committee's question solely on the grounds that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> sir, if the advice of counsel has been to not answer anything that will --
i ensure our protect my rights under the fifth amendment. >> was mr. mckendrick lying when he said that he told you that he would only move from philadelphia to los angeles if it was a direct reassignment? >> sir, i have been advised by counsel not to answer that question, to protect my rights under the fifth amendment to the constitution. >> at the record reflect that ms. missmr. reubens has asserted her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. please let me be clear. i you declining to answer the questions that this committee puts forth solely on the grounds that you believe that the answer will incriminate you? >> circum-i have been advised by counsel not to answer any questions that mining company. >> the report cites an e-mail from former undersecretary hickey to you which said she was all in to help and make it happen.
as and move you to philadelphia. what was missing key's role in your transfer and mr. mckendrick's transfer? >> circum- i have been advised not to answer that question and protect my rights. >> with the record reflect she has asserted her fifth amendment right. please let me be very clear. i you declined to answer the committee's question solely on the ground that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> circum-i have been advised any question that might incriminate me i should in fact this with my fifth amendment rights. >> why didn't you post the philadelphia job? whether any other candidates and use that were considered? >> i have been advised by counsel not to answer that question and to protect our rights.
you declining soiling then you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> the question that might incur made me, i have been advised by counsel to assert my fifth amendment right. the hiring effort for the vacant position in los angeles was suspended at the direction of your office in the midst of the hiring process. why did you seemingly out of. the effort to fulfill this position? >> i have been advised by counsel not to answer that question to protect my rights under the fifth amendment to the constitution. >> at the record reflect that she has asserted her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination and let me be clear, you are
declining to answer the committee's question solely on the ground that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> i have been advised by counsel not to answer questions to ensure our protect my rights to the fifth amendment under the constitution. >> are you refusing to answer any questions before you this evening? >> no, sir. >> ms. graves, the ig report concluded that you used your position of authority for personal and financial benefit. what evidence do you have that disputes that conclusion? [inaudible] >> upon advice of counsel are respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined answer that question. >> let the record reflect that is graves has asserted her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. let me be clear with you. you declining to answer the committee's question solely
community's question solely on the grounds that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right. >> with as many management challenges that have existed the baltimore office and your years of experience, why didn't you volunteer? >> upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined answer the question. >> at the record reflect that ms. miss graves has asserted her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination. please let me be clear again. are you declining to answer the committee's questions solely on the grounds that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined answer. >> at what point did you put
your name in for the st. paul opening? the same opening that the ig concluded that you helped create? >> mr. chairman, upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined answer the question. >> of the record reflect that she has asserted her fifth amendment right. again, let us be clear, you declined answer the committee's question solely on the ground that you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined to answer that question. quex's decision was it not to advertise the open position at the philadelphia regional office? >> mr. chairman, upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right and declined answer that question. >> let the record reflect she has asserted her fifth amendment right. let me be clear. a declining to answer the committee's question solely on the grounds you believe the answer will incriminate you? >> upon advice of counsel i respectfully exercise my fifth amendment right under the constitution and declined answer the question. >> thank you. mr. waller.
>> it is an interesting position you have the opportunity to work with the challenging community. after doing your research did you decide to take that position? >> i find it is very challenging and my position id is that would have to be direct reassigned and the agency would tell me that i would be the best candidate to go. i was committed to the mission of the v.a. i have struggled with the director reassignment and other agents of the past a senior leader basically said we
will directly assign you to another position in another city. ice said water the options and they said non is an alternative san they said you were fired. that did not happen here so i reached out to to find as much information as i could. so frankly there were times when i had to take family into consideration in their went through the process that if i was going to go would have to be director reassigned nobody else would take this position there were already two panels have not produced a successful candidate from the outside. >>.
>>. >> q. did not want to go to baltimore? >> i was not resigned to go into that office. >> what happened. >> i was reassigned with the house relocation and? >> the benefits of a relocation incentive to go to baltimore along with a salary increase. >> did you have additional responsibilities? >> i don't understand your question. >> was a day lateral or a
promotion? >> was the save as a director of the regional offices. >> did you get additional reimbursement funds or was it a lateral move? >> it was a lateral transfer >> is said contrary to your report? >> we classified depositions that the v.a. uses and that is higher than and baltimore. spa in the neck and there would have lesser responsibilities. >> from the st. paul
minnesota where mr. waller of originally was. >> that is interesting. said he could go back to relocate baltimore would be more challenging than the of the locations. and so to physically go there to visit that facility >> and it saves to be contradictory to report. >> he said all alone he would not go to los angeles without a directed reassignment. it is consistent with our report because he wanted to go out there and that is the testimony of the have we
have provided to the committee. if you don't take a directed management move you could be let go. >> the other option is he thought he was the best qualified person for that position. >> i cannot answer the was the best qualified or not. there were a number of candidates had applied for that position of their right thing to was over 100 with the office canceled that last hiring action. >> i don't know. >> freeze the clock for a minute. just to go back and the
question is asked did he want to go to l.a. do you want to stay? if you're referring to a discussion to do prefer to stay in philadelphia? he says stay. and i yield back. >> would you like to respond ? >> and then to engage as part of the last panel is interesting to be that that i want to learn more. yes i of interested and as the process goes to learn different themes you learn about the challenges it is
an interactive process. and i cannot do this unless i am a director reassigned because you are part of a team you cares about what happens so unless they determined that i am the right person to go. i will do my part. biddy want to go to iraq you stepped in to what your job was. period we did that. >> after would address applicants you turned out to be the best person that v.a. thought for the position. >> that seems it is a complement. >>.
>>. >> the export been the subjects up at the hearing. those secretary gibson in his letter to the chairman with the recommendations committed to proposed accountability actions by october 31st. what actions have been taken? >> with the look all the incentives. the secretary responsible for all punishments and enforcements deliver proposed actions on october
31st at the first part is of the seven days in an additional five days that he will release with their proposed punishment is. >> use the deposition was tough to -- the position was tough to fill. >> that's correct. >> also with incentives for hard to fill jobs but last month the inspector general concluded that position was never advertised. so how was ms. reubens eligible for these incentives if they ever tried to fill in at?
>> to have multiple lines of business. to have a pension center in the insurance center there is a lot going on and we have a history of problems we wanted somebody with the other lines of businesses with the local legislators and others in the area there is a union issue we felt ms. reubens had all those attributes probably our most experienced person. we did testify that was the
roughest and toughest are ago at the time we wanted the best person there. >> you did not advertise our interview you just determined she was the one it was tough to fill and needed the incentives as one decision? >> talk about baltimore. 131 people applied for the baltimore job when it was advertised why were they not considered? >> when we look at filling the ro everyone is different and has its own set of problems. and antoine had done a very good job in this very regressive to handle union problems, a good at working with the legislators and
baltimore has a history of problem after problem and that was the our right call he has dramatically improved production of almost every aspect but the best person in the position that would be antoine in this case. what about the inspector general's report? back in time i still would have made dozens. >> before i recognize its the next speaker is there
reason you cannot perform -- tell of the proposed actions ? >> and was told by our legal advisor is before the hearing that i cannot give the proposed action until they have a chance to go through the first part of the appeal process. but we are using the expedited act to impose those punishments. >> i apologize before recognized him i wanted to i did reassert tune the committee that you both have asserted your fifth amendment right against self-incrimination numerous times. both of you. you have done as the basis to answer questions that have been posed to you because of your so to have
them the bfi is to allow them to the validity of your assertions it to both would be subject to recall in the future should the committee decide to question you in the future i ask for unanimous consent for them to be excused subject to a recall. so ordered. we also removed your name tags from your seats because you did appear. thank you very much.
>> you sat on a panel responsible to interview applicants for the position why weren't one of the best qualified selected after the second job announcement? >> i cannot after -- to answer that. after they came up with the qualified in the best qualified we interviewed those individuals then be selected those to pass for word i am not even sure where they went to handle the packages. >> lenovo if they survived
the process are were not interested. >> you know, why the position was advertised the third time? >> i assume no one watches accepted or appointed prior. >> as a panel member we have no longevity. >> during the course of your career to do negotiate salary or relocation? >> not salaries that the lower level to discuss that with them. were you at that position you would not be eligible for incentives and benefits? >> i did not know that.
i traveled and other incentives to do the assignment. >> maybe you're looking to be directed? >> in that process to learn about the stations on the west coast with oakland a's and san diego and glossy angeles were open but i did show interest it was appropriate for people to ask the questions. as a senior leader i would have followed up as well. and only go if director reassigned. >> but that decision was not related to the awareness of
the eligibility of benefits. >> i have yet to work out those details of what they would be. in my the best qualified candidate i want this agency to succeed. >> were you aware of the management directed reassignment was the common process i am not aware what that means. >> when you completed other relocations with the government.
>> one was alluded to i had moved to other offices that were not. >> when did you speak about your reassignment to baltimore? >> i am not sure baby in the month of april 2014. >> and had to do with the number of discussions the being up to excepting baltimore. >> what did you discuss? >> and then as far as my relocation to take, the new
assignment of the regional office. >> you're recognized for five minutes. >> why would you not go to los angeles? >> with the regional office i will always raise my hand but my challenge is the cost of living by itemize that with the chief of staff that i have to go through to find the numbers but the increase of health and food the cost of living was much more expensive the regional
office is located in wilshire boulevard. you don't have to live there but every day just like washington. >> identically have reservations spin back for when the decision was made. >> using the appraised value inappropriate? and then leaves too much discretion to the agency. >> for those to have a good
answer is not properly justified it should have been but that's closer. they are very expensive but they are a tool for recruitment but important wintery to move executives across the country and all federal agencies were participating in the program. a just v.a. >> teeeight you review the real-estate market in his area as part of your investigation? and if so does that support the purchase? >> we did not review the real-estate market the looked at the fact there were two appraisals given. the average together so we
did not analyze the real estate market but how are all positions critical need? but there are dozens of applications to fill these positions? >> i don't think we can. that we weren't paying attention to everything we should be a maliki at all the procedures for your help what he has done is put to a
>> i just want to say prior to his appointment many of us to represent southern california was in contact with secretary shinseki to quickly fill this position that was vacant for nearly one year and there was the enormous backlog of claims it without this position being filled we were concerned veteran claims would take far too long to process. and they may have been exasperated. >> says he filled the position he makes the real effort to increase the visibility and has come up
to ventura county to participate in federal benefit amounts and i another veteran organizations and is also come to participate to learn more about the community of which i am very grateful. he has them both professional and committed. the purpose of all were meeting today put undue pressure on the employee's. and i understand they have appeared before the committee today to understand it happened in philadelphia.
this question is for you. but one of the poorest performing offices in the v.a.. but according to rudi ig report and i think that was mentioned earlier with 168 applications, five of whom were concerned -- considered best qualified with the third job was made 112 applicants were not rated or raped suggest that jeopardy defense and at the direction of her office. were you aware of this section? >> was a. the way we divided duties and responsibilities the
undersecretary was very much involved of the regional offices with the headquarters in the budget operations and lsi was called in specifically because they felt there was a conflict of interest asking me to do negotiations. i know there was a lot of problems in los angeles they were concerned about getting the right person there and i do agree he is the right person as a strong leader in in gets the long great with the kennedy and if the cremated a good move. >> the office of personnel management guidelines preclude any salary increase across all federal agencies
and back in 2012 secretary teethirteen -- shinseki stopped all performance of boards it looks like they paid $321,000 of salary increase 2013 through 2015. so how did they justified the salary increases? >> the first case that was involved was a antoine. when we were negotiating salary i made a call and asked can we do a salary increase? the answer was that actually the lead time you can increases during a move some of the duties and responsibilities are such as
complex or greater to a higher level or if there is issues then you have the authority to give the pay raise the week to recommend that if it could be approved at the headquarters. >> a couple of great questions. >> how is a position? >> i don't know. it looks like it is hard to fail but when you quit talking i think what happened was and let me just
do you understand? >> i come from a small town it is the big deal to indulge in dollars is a big deal and as a veteran is spent 33 years in the army we have 20 vacancies this year. our goal was to get the right person. won the the things we have done the last couple years bethpage more money to more veterans faster than ever before. i am for making sure that $90 billion per year is paid to veterans of the united states. >> it doesn't matter about the 90 billion of that is what they see as the one veteran if they have a 14%
increase in the recipients get the big ruse. that is the problem of person and. >> but if you are about to lose your job and did not expect this but he soldiered on he went to where he did not want to but he did that. were you worried about losing your job if you did not take this assignment? >> i went there process of many different levels i showed interest at different levels i was excited. >> it was say yes or no.
i heard that before. yes you were worried for you have no concern that is fine. >> by said know there is always a concern but i knew if i did not accept one. >> fair enough. i would like another explanation. >>'' was the reason why you did that? >> and for what it would take to pay off fell loan at it would not have been a benefit to me. >> there was a conversation
during he talked about the east coast is there a possibility about baltimore? >> not in the initial conversation. baltimore had not been a part of the conversation and was only subsequent to my initial conversation for those to oust i am working a letter right now to the ig. you may have seen their influence and i am also asking them to those jobs
that are used or responsibility in both the many members to join me in this request. this brings a specific me know as one of the worst in the country he was paid for year end was working as a senior adviser over the phone of field operations here in in washington but there is a three or time difference. do you know, at any thing about this? gimmick but the position that was created in the central office but that
would take care of this kind of problem. >> jedi note that has ever been done before. won the position was created for mr. russell. >> of the great vintages is that it is pretty quick and done so we will see however exceled the first couple months but with our employees, the rules and regulations them protections are such as the most impossible to do anything we will do the right thing and i can assure you he is performing work and held
accountable but it was the strange situation. >> and he didn't have to move he could work from home by phone or computer. >> there are no provisions to make them forcibly move we can only do that with the ses employs who try not to negotiate as much as possible we just don't have that ability. >> the philadelphia bureau had a lot of problems so you move him to a c angeles that had problems when you move him to read no. is this a good strategy to move people from poorly performing offices to other performing offices portly? >> he moved with acting with
a series of people and they had done a pretty good job for us. >> that was brand new to rule v.a. while i was not involved in the assignments assignments, i felt when we brought him in a lump his leadership ability, how he works with people and negotiates to get his organizations to work. in retrospect we should not have taken somebody we hired outside in stuck them in the most complex hard to work regional office. he did a good job but he was much better served - - suited for losses angeles and that has played out. literally improved 89% by the short-time we always
thought maybe they're right decisions with a huge domino effect trying to get the right people in the right place. >> so the primary qualification you needed that opening? >> not that i am aware of. >> you said it was probably a mistake to put him in the philadelphia office? >> if i had made that decision by probably would not put him there as his first assignment. >> because of wide 23rd - - for teethirteen evaluation is reviewing officer said. >> peters shifted the fiscal year has resulted in multiple successes in the steady increase the production and quality the last quarter and i fully expect mr. but kendrick
leadership will result in continued improvement over the coming year. >> to a the best of your knowledge has any employee mentioned of a question by federal agents? >> i have no knowledge. >> can you tell me more that we suspended the relocation program but tell me again what specifically was done to counteract the culture allows the misuse of funds? >> i have no long conversation actually of we
do have the accountability problem. >> i understand you cannot pay that type of money or be held accountable. we have to be responsible to what we do in our jobs. we believe we have to hold people accountable if not we cannot make change the one of the things and since he has been given this position of the enforcement. >> he has proposed actions and some decisions are final summer in the appellate process be is moving forward on every single one to
understand how to be accountable. >> but another commitment, but to talk about reno and the disgust with the whole situation would you work with us to try to develop better rules for those employees to make it easier to deal with this type of situation in the future? >> i personally would but i thank you have to fight a large federal government. >> 18 she thought it was lot and i would like to give vice from new. >> do you believe that anybody can miss use their position? >> mr. congressman and. i believe on a course of my
conversation and my ultimate decision icky with pressure to except the assignment and i did except it and then went into that opportunity with all the passion that i a did. >> the answer is yes? >> you are to say that davis used their position. have you received in the richard boucher and following this publication of the age you report -- ig report. have you had any negative consequences following the
publication of the report? >> i have not. >> have you? >> i can only answer is very well of what goes on in washington with ago to town halls there were questions of the documents and i can tell you there were documents shredded because the report phalange none so his very careful how we get things out to the public and retribution comes from them what is said and done the and from the agency from the constituency would to no answers and i would strive to say we have to get those out from the v.a. as well. when you put out misinformation without getting no information. >> to the best of your knowledge had they apologized for their
behavior? >> i have no knowledge of that. >> by time is up. >> please qualified to comment that no documents were shredded that the documents go through a series of the views. they had received a tip there were documents in the final bin going off to a destruction. they took those documents out of the vince and certainly looked at them to see if there were legitimate that needed to be recorded. they did not get destroyed but handed back so that they would be processed correctly
india their part is you could not tell how many of their documents may have been destroyed because there was a requirement of the destruction of claims documents that the bureau had not maintained that log are however records disposition officer sue could not compare that period of time to regular period of time. >> it is your testimony so if they bush have remained there would have been shredded? >> absolutely. >> i would like him to respond to that and they're like the way that you soldier up.
positions of authority for freddie and shall gain ion disappointed that v.a. must use resources to investigate another scandalous of focusing time isn't attention on improving culture care. >> need to be more veteran focus than they need access to high-quality health care system not subjected to one that is bogged down in personal issues then to my district they deserve better. now to go back, can you explain the process? to you have any concerns the of the methodology or the legitimacy from the inspector general's office? >> there were none found.