House chairman renews criticism of VA bonuses

Topics: From the Wires,

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee chairman renewed his criticism Thursday of the bonuses paid to senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department and called on the VA to recoup a nearly $63,000 bonus given to an official who oversaw a Pittsburgh hospital where an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease killed five veterans.

Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said that giving the government’s top award for its senior professionals to VA regional director Michael Moreland showed there was no limit to the “VA’s tone deafness.” The American Legion also said the award “defies all logic.”

“We are calling on VA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its performance appraisal system to ensure outrageous bonus payments like this do not occur in the future,” Miller said.

The Legionnaires’ disease outbreak in Pittsburgh sickened as many as 21 patients and was linked to five deaths from February 2011 to November 2012. A report from VA’s inspector general in late April said widespread management problems contributed to failures in detecting and managing the outbreak, but did not assign blame to any specific individuals. Moreland oversees numerous VA medical centers in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware.

Miller sees the award and bonus as an example of how the VA rewards poor performance. The VA announced recently that it would not give any performance bonuses this year to executives who administer the disability claims system, under which about two-thirds of veterans with claims pending wait more than 125 days for their claims to be resolved. Miller has been similarly critical of bonuses that have been paid to some of those who oversee VA medical facilities.

The award to Moreland, however, is separate from the annual performance awards given to senior executives at the VA and other federal departments. He received the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award, which is designed to honor executives for extraordinary achievement throughout their career. The award goes out to no more than 1 percent of federal executives and also provides winners with a cash bonus equal to 35 percent of their salary. Department secretaries nominate potential winners to the Office of Personnel Management.

The VA said in a statement that it’s conducting a review of Moreland’s nomination and will take any appropriate action when that review is complete.

The VA has reduced its annual performance bonuses to senior executives in recent years. Last year, it distributed $2.3 million. In 2009, it distributed $3.3 million.

The union representing VA’s hospital workers also was critical of the award to Moreland.

“This is absolutely unbelievable,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

Carol A. Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association that represents career professionals in the federal government, said Moreland won the award months in advance of last weekend’s ceremony that publicly commemorates all the winners. She noted the award would have been made months before the inspector general’s report was released.

She said to have not gone ahead with the award “would be unprecedented and I’m not sure it would stand up legally.”

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