VA staffers face discipline over travel, porn

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Department of Veterans Affairs investigators are calling for disciplinary action against several officials following an internal probe into the VA’s special-events office in Washington.

The officials include a director who took taxpayer-funded trips to Las Vegas and San Diego that included a sailing trip and a golf outing, records show.

The same official - Diane Hartmann, director of national programs and special events - also authorized herself to receive hundreds of hours of leave to which she wasn’t entitled, according to a new report by the VA Office of Inspector General.

Another employee, whose name and job title VA officials so far have withheld, was caught with thousands of pornographic images on his work computer.

The findings were made public following Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by The Washington Times and others seeking copies of the 45-page inspector general’s report.

Questions about the report sent to Ms. Hartmann’s VA work e-mail account were not returned, nor were numerous telephone and e-mail messages left with an attorney Monday and Tuesday.

The report also concluded that Daniel Devine, former acting assistant secretary for congressional and legislative affairs, improperly tipped Ms. Hartmann off to the fact that she was being investigated last year.

An attorney for Mr. Devine disputed the inspector general’s findings.

“Mr. Devine has an outstanding record as a public servant,” lawyer Steve Levin said Monday. “The suggestion that he acted inappropriately is flat out wrong, and as the facts come to light, we are confident he will be vindicated.”

A spokeswoman for the VA declined to comment on specific individuals named in the report, but said officials were weighing disciplinary action.

“The Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA) takes very seriously the findings of the VA Office of Inspector General,” spokeswoman Katie Roberts wrote in a statement to The Times. “OPIA has concurred with all of the OIG’s findings and will pursue the appropriate administrative disciplinary actions.”

Investigators who reviewed Ms. Hartmann’s work computer found pictures from official trips she took to San Diego and Las Vegas in January 2009 of her on a yacht, golfing, sightseeing and touring the Hoover Dam.

Ms. Hartmann told investigators that the sailing excursion - aboard the yacht Stars and Stripes - was part of an official business meeting to look at adaptive equipment on the boat, the report said. She said the golf outing was with two representatives of a group for disabled veterans and that the Hoover Dam tour was a side trip, according to the report.

Still, investigators said the trips weren’t necessary. They also concluded that Ms. Hartmann tried to impede their investigation.

Another VA worker who came under scrutiny in the report, whose name was redacted, “misused his official time and travel,” according to investigators.

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