Susan Taylor, the Veterans Affairs Department’s executive at the center of the reverse auction procurement scandal, is leaving government before she could be fired.
Taylor announced her resignation effective Oct. 14 in an email to staff, which Federal News Radio obtained.
“During my 4 years at Veterans Health Administration I have had the privilege of meeting many of you and have observed your dedication to improving procurement of supplies and services for Veterans. It has been my privilege to work with you to meet that goal,” Taylor wrote. “However, after 29 years of federal service, I have decided to resign and retire, effective Oct. 14th. I will definitely miss the terrific staff I have had at VHA both at headquarters and in the field nationwide, but I know that you will continue to admirably serve our Veterans through your dedicated service.”
An unidentified person answering Taylor’s cellphone said she was not going to be able to offer comment.
A VA spokeswoman confirmed that Taylor retired from the agency on Oct. 14.
“When evidence of wrongdoing is discovered, VA will continue to use all authorities at its disposal to hold employees accountable and take action as quickly as legally possible,” the spokeswoman said. “It is important to note in the case of a retirement-eligible employee who retires after receiving notice of proposed adverse action, VA has no legal authority to stop the employee from retiring or prevent the retirement from taking effect before the removal takes effect.”
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson started the process Oct. 6 to fire Taylor using the new powers given to the agency in the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 to remove Senior Executive Service members who have been accused of misconduct or whose performance has been determined to be below standard.
Taylor’s resignation comes about three weeks after an investigation by VA inspector general found she allegedly committed procurement fraud, used her position as VHA deputy chief procurement officer to promote and award a contract to FedBid, a reverse auction vendor, and improperly acted as an agent of the vendor creating a conflict of interest. Investigators also claimed Taylor “improperly disclosed non-public VA information to unauthorized persons, misused her position and VA resources for private gain, and engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when she recommended that a subordinate senior executive service (SES) employee be removed from SES during her probation period.”
Taylor also allegedly interfered with the IG’s investigation by lying about her involvement with VA’s FedBid contract and her relationship with executives of the company.
Additionally, the IG found FedBid executives acted improperly by allegedly taking “significant measures to disrupt and deprive VA’s right to transact official business honestly and impartially, free from improper and undue influence.”
VA has yet to decide what actions, if any, it will take against FedBid and several of its executives for its alleged role in the scheme. FedBid remains in good standing in the System for Award Management (SAM).
A congressional staff member said VA let Taylor resign because of how the agency implemented the new law, adding an additional five-day appeal process. The source says it’s that five-day appeal process that gives executives the ability to retire or quit before anything bad happens.
“VA’s policy implementing the Choice Act removal authority is intended to be fair to employees while also ensuring SES performance and conduct issues are resolved quickly and with finality,” wrote VA in a white paper explaining its interpretation of the law. “The policy provides VA SES five days’ advance notice of proposed removal and an opportunity to respond in writing to the charges and evidence supporting the action. The policy also provides that removal decisions must be supported by substantial evidence, meaning such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the action.”
Robert McDonald, VA’s Secretary, wrote in a letter to the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Sept. 29, that the agency has more than 100 investigations underway and will act as quickly as possible to hold those employees implicated in wrongdoing accountable.
“The act allows VA to resolve SES removal actions more quickly than ever before,” McDonald wrote. “However, the new law does not allow VA to simply fire senior executives it believes are performing poorly or engaging in misconduct. In fact, the SES removal provisions Congress passed into law are limited in ways that should be clear from any reading of the law. VA’s evidentiary burden in that process is unchanged — the law requires preponderance of evidence or cause to fire VA senior executives. The law does not guarantee that VA senior executives will be fired even if VA seeks to remove them — VA’s decision may be reversed on appeal.”
In response to the Taylor’s announcement, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) issued a statement that applauded Congress’ actions in passing the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, but he also questioned the inclusion of an appeals process that gave individuals advance notice so that they could resign their jobs without consequence.
“The only way the department can regain the trust of veterans and taxpayers is if VA employees who preside over malfeasance and mismanagement are held accountable, and it’s up to department leaders to make sure that happens,” Miller said, in the statement. “Quite simply, any VA administrator who purposely manipulated appointment data, covered up problems, retaliated against whistleblowers or who was involved in malfeasance that harmed veterans must be fired, rather than allowed to slip out the back door with a pension. If any laws or regulations are interfering with this concept, VA leaders must work with Congress so those laws and regulations can be changed.”