VA Inspector General: Department Must Be More Transparent on Hiring, Vacancies

The Department of Veterans Affairs is failing to meet public disclosure standards set by Congress on staffing and vacancies, posting data on its web site that does not provide a complete picture of shortages, according to a report from the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

Under the VA Mission Act signed into law last year, VA must report the number of personnel vacancies and hirings on a public website. The provision was designed to ensure transparency in a department that has "experienced chronic healthcare professional shortages since 2015," according to the VA OIG.

But VA only maintains vacancy data on its website for the current quarter, which does not allow for comparisons of hiring and attrition over time. And it only reports vacancies in broad categories -- "clinical" and "non-clinical," as opposed to "physician," "nurses," "social workers," etc. -- making it impossible for outsiders to understand what types of professionals have been hired or need to be, according to the IG.

In its report, Staffing and Vacancy Reporting Under the Mission Act of 2018, released Tuesday, the IG noted that, while VA had complied with parts of the law -- setting up a web site to view data on vacancies -- the site's inadequacy, if "not corrected, may impact the transparency of the VA's future staffing and vacancy reporting."

But the VA OIG report confirmed that the information is not readily available, as required by law. In its report, Staffing and Vacancy Reporting Under the Mission Act of 2018, released Tuesday, the IG noted that, while VA had complied with parts of the law -- setting up a web site to view data on vacancies -- the site's inadequacy, if "not corrected, may impact the transparency of the VA's future staffing and vacancy reporting."

"VA should identify specific jobs or positions so that the public can better understand its staffing needs. VA also did not follow the Act's specifications for reporting gains and losses; data were aggregated by fiscal year, instead of by quarter. VA should adjust its methodology for aggregating gains and losses to ensure that data are reported appropriately and transparently," wrote Larry Reinkemeyer, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations.

The United States is facing a shortage of physicians across government and private facilities, with the shortfall expected to reach 122,000 by 2032, according to a study released earlier this year by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

VA has had its share of health care vacancies, with 40,000 of 335,000 Veterans Health Administration positions -- jobs that include clinical and administrative workers -- vacant as of late last year.

According to VA data, VHA now has 342,911 employees. In the first quarter of 2019, it hired 18,695 people and saw personnel losses of 14,314.

The office recommended that VA human resources officials report staffing and vacancy data as required, disclose limitations of the data and maintain the historical data publicly.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated for clarity; remarks by President Donald Trump were removed because in a phone call on Tuesday, he mentioned 200,000 new doctors, nurses and physicians assistants treating veterans. The president was referring to those working in private networks under the VA Choice and Community Care programs.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @patriciakime.

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