The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking back nearly $10 million in bonuses it paid to career senior leaders earlier this month, over concerns the awards went to more executives than intended.
VA officials said in a statement Friday that the department, after a recent review, found it was “imprecise” in how it implemented its new critical skill incentive (CSI) authority under the toxic-exposure PACT Act
“This led to more career senior executives receiving these payments than intended,” VA officials said in a statement.
The VA said 170 career senior executives received about $9.7 million in critical skill incentive payments in early September.
The VA said no political appointees received a critical skill incentive payment, and that the bonuses it’s clawing back make up a small fraction of the total awards.
The VA, in its guidance on PACT Act critical skill incentives, states that political appointees, members of the Senior Executive Service and limited-term employees are ineligible for these awards.
The department said more than 97% of employees who received skill incentive pay to date are not senior-level career executives at headquarters.
VA has processed 13,165 critical skills incentives worth $117 million dollars. A majority of the incentives went to HR specialists and assistants, housekeeping aides, security personnel, and police officers.
The department said those incentives “were awarded correctly, and are not under review.”
VA officials said the bonuses paid to career executives resulted from a “policy error by VA leadership, not an error by the employees who received CSIs.”
“The CSIs were not requested by the individuals who received them, and there is no legal wrongdoing. Instead, VA leadership was overly broad in the way we implemented and executed this authority, which led to more career senior executives at headquarters receiving these payments than intended,” VA officials said. “We deeply apologize to the employees who have been impacted by this error. We are going to work with these employees to help them through this process, recognizing that this was our error, not theirs.”
The VA is also asking its Office of Inspector General to look into the issue.
It remains unclear at this point whether the VA will re-award any of the bonuses to career executives after it completes its review.
VA officials said they will “evaluate that question while we conduct this review and work to put a new CSI process in place.”
“We are conducting this CSI review to make sure that we are being good stewards of taxpayer dollars and resources provided by Congress, and to ensure that everyone who receives a CSI – today and going forward – meets the criteria to do so.”
Senate VA Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a statement Friday that “it’s unacceptable that any of these resources were misused and directed towards senior executives at VA headquarters who didn’t meet the appropriate criteria.”
“While VA is now fully recouping these funds, it’s clear more needs to be done to ensure this never happens again, and that recruitment and retention tools are used the way Congress intended with no room for error. I expect VA to provide us with swift answers about this mismanagement,” Tester said.