VA begins process to remove executive at center of FedBid scandal

The Veterans Affairs Department is using its new authority under the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 to remove the executive at the center of the recent procurement scandal involving FedBid.

Susan Taylor (VA photo)

Sloan Gibson, VA’s deputy secretary, said in a release Monday he’s proposed the removal of Susan Taylor, the deputy chief procurement officer at the Veterans Health Administration, for her role in what the agency inspector general described as a combination of fraud, lying to investigators, creating a conflict of interest and whistleblower retaliation.

“The proposed removal of the DCPO underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get Veterans the care they need,” Gibson said in a statement.

He added that Ricky Lemmon, the director of the Service Area Office Central, has been designated acting deputy procurement and logistics officer.

This would be the first Senior Executive Service member to be removed under the law. The law states VA may not put a SESer accused of misconduct or whose performance has been determined to be below standard on administrative leave or any other leave with pay.

A VA spokeswoman said SESers proposed for removal under the new authority have five days to reply before a decision. Before the new law, a SESer had 30 days to respond to the allegations or proposed termination.

The spokeswoman said she has no information on whether VA will recommend FedBid for suspension and debarment from government contracting in light of the IG report.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said in a statement that he will reserve judgment until a final decision is made about Taylor’s employment with VA.

“Congress acted with near unanimity to give the VA secretary greater authority to actually fire failing executives, not just propose removing them,” Miller said. “What I don’t want to see happen is for Taylor to retire, resign or find another government job outside of VA without consequence — a pattern that has been emerging in recent weeks. 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. If any current laws or regulations are impeding the department’s ability to swiftly hold employees accountable, VA leaders must work with Congress so those laws and regulations can be changed.”

Taylor has the right to appeal to an administrative judge, who has 21 days to issue a decision and that decision cannot be appealed further. The law states the judge cannot issue a stay during the appeal.

Merit Systems Protection Board Chairwoman Susan Tsui Grundmann said in an interview with Federal News Radio’s Federal Drive program Monday that the board issued an interim final rule for how the agency will implement the new law.

“There have been no cases filed,” she said. “When the cases do come in, these cases will have to rise to the top if they have to be adjudicated within 21 days.”

Grundmann said the MSPB is reviewing the comments on the interim final rule.

“As the current rule reads, everybody has to use e-appeal. Our discovery process is still there but is shortened from 30-to-60 days now down to 10,” she said. “There will be a hearing on day 18 and the parties can expect bench decisions at time of the hearing. The law also provides that the secretary will give the administrative judges such information and assistance to ensure the appeal is expedited to the maximum extent possible and there could be sanctions for failure to do so. So to the parties, to the agency, they should be expected to go on day one.”

VA is supposed to alert MSPB when they take this action so the agency can free up an administrative judge to review the case and make a decision.

“If you consider preparing and adjudicating a case to salvage your career in 21 days fair, that’s really the issue,” Grundmann said. “Having said that, the process that we designed roughly mirrors our adjudication process overall. There’s discovery, there’s motion, there will be witnesses and there’s a hearing. Nothing in the statute on its face requires the VA to return to what we call the spoils system. The agency still has to prove its case. It still has the burden of proof. It still has to present facts supporting its charge.”

RELATED STORIES:

VA IG unwinds tale of procurement fraud, abuse involving senior agency officials, FedBid

Rep. Coffman calls on VA to take swift action against Susan Taylor

Susan Tsui Grundmann, Chairman, Merit Systems Protection Board

Boost for vets’ health: Obama signs new law

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