After Scandals, VA Proposes Boost to Inspector General Staff

Department of Veterans Affairs

The Veterans Affairs Department is seeking to grow its investigating arm next year by more than 100 people.

The IG, which is responsible for uncovering waste, fraud and abuse, has itself come under fire in recent years over allegations it underplayed findings related to deaths of veterans on secret waiting lists and, more recently, allegedly skewed an investigation into senior executives alleged to have pushed out of jobs two employees whose positions they wanted.

During a call-in session with reporters to discuss the proposed 2017 budget, officials did not link any action or investigation to the $160 million budget request. For 2016 the OIG office is funded at $137 million.

"This will allow for more increased oversight of VA programs," said Interim Assistant Secretary for Management and Interim Chief Financial Officer Ed Murray said. He expects the 100-plus new employees to the OIG will improve accountability across the VA. "We believe this [increase] is appropriate given the growing VA budget and the growing number of veterans programs."

Officials did not provide a breakdown of OIG's current staffing, though in an annual report to Congress last September the agency said it had 662 employees organized into three sections: the offices of Investigations, Audits and Evaluations, and Healthcare Inspections. It also maintains a contract review office.

Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday, who has been steering the OIG since the previous acting IG resigned last year, reported in September that the IG investigators closed 523 investigations and made 209 arrests during 2015 for crimes including fraud, bribery, embezzlement, identity theft and drug-related crimes, including diversion and illegal distribution.

Three people were sent to prison for fraud and bribery, among them a VA supervisor and two contractors, Halliday reported.

Lawmakers have taken the IG's office to task, however, over its handling of investigations into the wait-times scandal that came to light in 2014 and, more recently, the case to two senior executives whose punishment for allegedly manipulating the VA's employment system was overturned by an administrative law judge.

Overall, the VA is seeking $20 billion more in 2017 than in 2016, for a total of $182.3 billion.

The total that includes more than $78 billion in discretionary funding -- mostly for health care -- and nearly $103.6 billion for mandatory programs such as disability compensation and pensions.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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