VA Chief of Staff Expected to Retire

Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich
Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich

Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff John R. Gingrich is calling it quits.

Gingrich -- criticized by lawmakers and the VA’s Inspector General’s office last year in connection with a pair of Florida resort VA conferences cited for waste and ethics violations -- is leaving on his own terms and retiring, according to sources who spoke to on condition of anonymity.

Gingrich, a Persian Gulf War veteran who served 30 years in the Army, is expected to leave within the next few weeks and perhaps as soon as one week. However, it’s unclear when the VA plans to formally announce Gingrich’s retirement.

A request for comment from the VA was not returned before the publishing of this article.

Gingrich has reportedly stayed on since the start of the new administration in January at the request of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who asked him to help out through some of the transitions and prepare for an interim chief of staff.

“[This] will have been done by the end of the month,” Gingrich said in a statement that has not yet been released to the public according to a source who has seen the memo. “I believe we have accomplished much in the past four years and the team is well focused for the future.”

Gingrich decided to retire after discussing it with his wife, according to a source.

Some veterans and VA observers saw Gingrich as more involved in the department’s day-to-day operations than Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould.

Last year, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC, ranking member of its Senate counterpart, demanded Gingrich’s firing after the VA was cited for wasteful spending and ethics violations at two human resources training programs at a Florida resort in 2011.

The events cost more than $6 million. The IG found instances of VA employees accepting gifts from contractors including spa treatments, helicopter rides, and tickets to a performance by the Rockettes. The agency spent nearly $100,000 on promotional items – bags, pens, water bottles – that the IG deemed unnecessary and wasteful.

Gingrich admitted in a statement that was included in the IG report that he fell down on the job when he approved the conferences without asking enough questions.

“I signed the thing authorizing the conferences. So, I should have made sure the conferences were executed better,” he said. “Now, I think people should have done more prudent work. But, it’s my signature upon that page. And, I take the full responsibility. And, I should have asked, probably, harder questions than I did … But, I also think there is a bunch of senior executives, regardless of whether they are SES or above, that have responsibilities for the execution.”

VA Secretary Shinseki rejected the lawmakers call for Gingrich’s firing.

Within the VA, the IG’s office recommended that Shinseki meet with VA attorneys to determine “the appropriate administrative action to take against Mr. Gingrich and ensure that action is taken.” There is no indication Shinseki met with the VA’s general counsel or, if he did, determined that any administrative action was appropriate.

Gingrich’s expected retirement comes right after a Time magazine columnist recommended that Shinseki resign. On Tuesday, Miller said at a hearing that VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey should resign following his frustrations with continued long wait lines for veterans seeking benefits.

Gingrich was appointed VA chief of staff in 2009. He retired from the Army as a colonel in 2001. During Operation Desert Storm in 1991 he commanded a field artillery battalion in the 1st Infantry Division along Saudi Arabia-Iraq border.

He later served as executive officer to the commander of U.S. Army-Europe and Allied Land Forces Central Europe. Just before retiring in 2001 he served as the director of the Army Chief of Staff Strategic Planning Group. He subsequently stayed on at the Pentagon until 2003 in the senior executive service, serving as director of Army Strategic Communications Initiatives in the chief of staff’s office.

Just before joining the VA, he was president of Strategic LINX, Inc., a consulting company that teaches strategy planning, development and communications to government agencies, corporations and non-profits.

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