The Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal over patient waiting lists is raising new questions about paid leave policy for federal employees who are under investigation. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is asking Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to provide details of VA employees who have been placed on leave.
"It would add insult to injury for any wronged veterans to give employees who might have cooked the books at the VA extended paid vacations while the government sorts out the mess. Leave policies should make sense and not be abused during prolonged internal investigations,” said Sen. Grassley in a letter this week to Shinseki.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is already conducting an examination of the government’s use of administrative leave at Sen. Grassley's request after he says he learned of outrageous examples of alleged abuse. They include the Inspector General of the National Archives, who's continued collecting a paycheck courtesy of taxpayers since Sept. 14, 2012 during a professional misconduct investigation; and an IRS employee who stayed on the federal payroll for three years "without performing any work after a conviction for several felonies." Federal rules call for use of administrative leave "for short periods of time not generally exceeding three consecutive work days."
Congress is currently investigating allegations that at least 40 veterans have died waiting for care, and that the agency maintained secret waiting lists. Sen. Grassley says press reports have named a number of officials on leave pending the investigations including Phoenix, Arizona VA Director Sharon Helman, Associate Director Lance Robinson, and a third employee who was not identified; David Newman, at the Cheyenne, Wyoming VA facility; and two Durham, North Carolina VA employees.
Sen. Grassley's letter to Shinseki asks for a response by June 1o to the following questions:
- Are all of the VA employees who are currently placed on administrative leave pending investigations related to this matter continuing in a paid status? If not, which ones mentioned in this letter are not receiving their salary?
- How many employees have been placed on paid administrative leave as a result of investigations related to this matter, and what is the annual salary for each?
- How much money has been spent from 2009 until the present to pay VA employees who are or were on administrative leave for more than one month pending any investigation (not just those related this matter)?
- What is the longest period of paid administrative leave pending an investigation during that time?
- What is the median period of paid administrative leave pending an investigation during that time?
- How many VA employees are currently on paid administrative leave pending investigation?
- For how long do you anticipate each of those employees will be on administrative leave?
- What alternatives to paid administrative leave did the agency consider, if any, to address the concerns that caused it to initiate the leave in the first place? If none, why not?
- When do you believe administrative leave becomes of extensive duration as opposed to a short period of time?
- Do you agree that administrative leave is only within the agency’s discretion if it is limited to a short period of time?