Whistleblowers allege that some employees of a Veterans Affairs office in Denver watched movies, read books, or stared at the wall while earning nearly $100,000 a year.
It was reportedly happening at the Office of the Inspector General for Veterans Affairs, the very division that is supposed to eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse, KDVR-TV reported.
Two whistleblowers filed complaints with the Office of Special Counsel in Washington, D.C., claiming that an office of 11 employees showed up for work but did little to nothing from April 2017 to April 2018.
What did they do all day?
Employees allegedly stared at the wall, took long lunches, read books, or just hung out, according to what the whistleblowers wrote in their complaints.
The payroll for the employees during that time cost taxpayers more than $1.2 million.
The Office of Special Counsel policy states that employee’s identities are not disclosed unless the IG deems that “disclosure is unavoidable or is compelled by a court order. If you file a disclosure with OSC, your identity will not be shared outside of OSC without your consent.”
Exceptions to releasing an employee's identity include imminent danger to public health or safety, or violations of criminal law. KDVR obtained copies of the complaints but did not name the whistleblowers.
In mid-June, the Office of Special Counsel released a letter to the whistleblowers admitting the Denver OIG office "did not have sufficient work to keep all employees fully engaged on active projects." But it only acknowledged that it happened for a 9-month period from July 2017 to April 2018, instead of the 1-year time frame alleged by the whistleblowers, the TV station reported.
The Office of Special Counsel wrote that “several factors contributed to the lack of assigned work, including the untimely selection and approval of audit topics and the fact that some staff were unfamiliar with the development of quality audit proposals."
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents Colorado's 6th Congressional District, told KDVR he wants an investigation into how the office could do practically nothing and yet hire three additional auditors in May 2018, each earning $95,000 a year.
"It really gives you no confidence in the system,” Coffman said.
"It`s a big deal to the taxpayer of United States,” he added. “It`s a big deal to the veterans that aren't getting the resources that they should be getting because they're being wasted in these other areas.”
Were there any consequences?
No one was apparently disciplined for how the office operated, KDVR reported.
The Office of Special Counsel wrote in a statement: "When a whistleblower disclosed mismanagement related to insufficient workload for some employees, OSC took the allegations seriously and utilized an expedited process to quickly achieve corrective action."
The OSC also stated that it does not have the authority to directly discipline employees. That would be up to the Office of the Inspector.
It added: "There is no excuse for employees not to be engaged on meaningful OIG work and low-performing employees have received counseling and corrective action."
Investigators also said the office will now be more efficient because a new manager was hired (in addition to the office director and two existing managers) and the office now has 10 auditors instead of seven.
Regarding the whistleblowers’ concerns, Michael Missal, the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said “the facts are not consistent with their claims."