- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Treasury Department’s inspector general is looking into why the department hired a woman already under federal investigation for steering millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to a friend’s company, and why she misled investigators who were looking into the matter.

Iris Cooper, who had been head of the Veterans Affairs office of acquisition operations, was being probed by the VA’s inspector general even as she took the job at Treasury, according to a previously restricted report that was made public this week in response to an open records request by The Washington Times.

The VA inspector general said she “preselected” Ohio-based Tridec Technologies LLC for a contract, then helped break the project into smaller contracts to ensure the company got the work. She also gave the company information that she obtained from another federal agency, which Tridec then used in technical and pricing proposals to VA, according to the report.

Now the Treasury Department’s inspector general is looking into her hiring there.

“We are aware that the Treasury Inspector General is in possession of the report, and we will be discussing any appropriate next steps with the inspector general,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement Tuesday.

In a statement Monday, the department publicly backed Ms. Cooper and said the VA report “had no bearing” on her job at Treasury.

The Treasury inspector general’s office declined to comment on the investigation, but email correspondence obtained by The Times shows that a senior official in the office told staff at the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs that Treasury Inspector General Eric Thorson had been briefed about the situation and that the office would pursue it immediately.

The committee wanted to make sure Ms. Cooper had informed Treasury she was under investigation at the time she was under consideration for the job.

Tridec, the company cited by the inspector general, did not respond to inquiries. Ms. Cooper disputed the findings through her attorney, David Schertler.

“The report is biased, misleading and completely disregards a number of critical facts, including that Ms. Cooper recused herself from the VOA contracting process,” Mr. Schertler said in a statement.

The VA’s inspector general ended its two-year investigation into Ms. Cooper without recommending any action be taken against her because she had already left for Treasury. That decision raises questions about whether misconduct findings at one federal agency affect future or current employment in another.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called it “disappointing” that Ms. Cooper was able to “secure a high-level appointment with the Treasury Department,” while another former VA executive named in the report retired with full benefits.

Treasury officials would have had little way of knowing about an ongoing misconduct investigation by another agency’s inspector general unless VA officials informed them. But there’s no indication that ever happened.

A spokeswoman for the VA inspector general’s office said it was up to the VA to tell Treasury. VA officials, meanwhile, have not commented directly on the investigation.

“The department is in receipt of the published report and is in the process of reviewing the facts presented in the report,” VA spokeswoman Genevieve Billia said. “After reviewing the report, the department will decide what the next course of action will be and will so inform you at that time.”

Though the probe began in 2012, the VA publicly lauded Ms. Cooper when she left the agency.

The Federal Times reported on Ms. Cooper’s move to Treasury in February, quoting a VA spokeswoman as saying the agency was sad to lose her.

But the VA inspector general’s office said Ms. Cooper “lacked candor,” telling investigators that she did not recall how Tridec knew that VA was looking to create a virtual acquisition office. It was an explanation that the VA inspector general’s office called “difficult to comprehend” in light of Ms. Cooper’s “significant involvement” in the project, the report said.

It’s not the first time a senior federal executive has moved from one agency to another while under inspector general scrutiny.

Former VA acquisition official Susan Taylor accepted a job at the Department of Energy that was scuttled just as the VA inspector general’s office released a report in September that found she steered work to reverse-auction contractor FedBid.

In another case, the Federal Times reported last year that Kay Ely left her job as the Office of Personnel Management’s associate director of human resources amid an investigation that later faulted her in a probe involving no-bid contracts.

Two months after the investigation began, she left OPM and joined the General Services Administration, overseeing a technology contract portfolio worth billions of dollars.

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