- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The chairman of a House committee called Tuesday for the Department of Veterans Affairs to end its “outrageous scheme” for relocating highly paid executives after learning of the agency’s itemized breakdown of its $288,000 “relocation” payment for the new director of the VA’s beleaguered Philadelphia office.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the Committee on Veterans Affairs, said the government’s “appraised value offer program” to relocate certain bureaucrats who are transferring jobs is “a scheme in which everyone but the taxpayer wins.”

Mr. Miller was responding to a letter from Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, itemizing the huge payment for Diana Rubens to transfer from the Washington office to Philadelphia last year. The expenses included more than $80,000 paid to Ms. Rubens and $211,000 to a federal contractor that was given the job of selling her home in Alexandria.

“For VA to pay such an outrageous amount in relocation expenses at a time when the department is continually telling Congress and taxpayers it needs more money raises questions about VA’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, transparency and true reform,” Mr. Miller said in a statement. “VA’s top leaders were ushered into their positions based on the logic that their business sense would bring private-sector efficiency and accountability to VA’s reform efforts. But the Appraised Value Offer program doesn’t make any business sense and is the opposite of efficient.”

The VA said it paid Ms. Rubens “subsistence and temporary expenses” of $15,812; real-estate expenses of $29,966; a “relocation income tax allowance” of $15,291; $11,678 to ship her household goods and personal effects; and $11,768 to store her household items for 30 days. The agency paid a vendor $211,750 for “relocation services” involved in the sale of her home, which eventually was sold for less than the vendor paid Ms. Rubens; and paid $12,705 for a “VA Financial Services Center service charge.”

Ms. Hickey said the VA was required to pay the vendor a 28 percent fee because Ms. Rubens’ house in Alexandria did not sell within 60 days.

She told Mr. Miller that the relocation program is important because the VA faces “unique recruiting and retention challenges” and that Ms. Rubens has a “proven record as a successful leader” at the agency.

The committee is holding a hearing Wednesday on chronic problems in the VA’s Philadelphia and Oakland offices, and on the payments for Ms. Rubens’ transfer to Philadelphia.

Mr. Miller said the relocation program “has become an entitlement” at the VA.

“VA claims the program is a tool to incentivize qualified candidates to move to critical locations, but the fact that the department offers AVO to every single executive accepting reassignment as a regional office director negates that argument completely,” he said. “I am calling on VA leaders to put forth a plan to end the department’s use of the program. If no plan is forthcoming, we’ll explore legislative remedies to do the same.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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