DorobekInsider: The buzz of federal government IT: Two scorching IG report on VA IT… sex, lies, but no video tape

If you want some interesting reading, there are two new report out from the inspector general at the Department of Veterans Affairs. (How often do “IG report” and “interesting reading” end up in the same sentence. But this might actually get you to put down that steamy summer read. While the subject matter is steamy, leave it to an IG report to make it almost mechanical… One person called this sex and lies — we’re just missing the video tape. And while the subject )

Right up front, it is important to mention — and I think current VA CIO Roger Baker will appreciate everybody noting — that this was not on his watch. That being said, VA is likely going to have to respond. More on that in a moment, but first…

Here is how Nextgov’s Gautham Nagesh reports the findings:

Former high-ranking information technology officials at the Veterans Affairs Department gave preferential treatment to certain contractors, engaged in nepotism in hiring and, in one case, took advantage of a relationship with a supervisor for personal gain, according to a new report from the department’s inspector general.

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Two reports published Thursday indicate VA’s former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Robert Howard, allowed employees to abuse their authority for the benefit of friends and family.

Read the full NextGov story here. FCW’s Ben Bain also has a report on the IG reports here.

You can download the PDFs of the IG report here:

Administrative Investigation Misuse of Position, Abuse of Authority, and Prohibited Personnel Practices Office of Information & Technology [August 2009, PDF]

We substantiated that Ms. Katherine Adair Martinez, Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) for Information Protection and Risk Management (IPRM), Office of Information and Technology (OI&T), misused her position, abused her authority, and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she influenced a VA contractor and later her VA subordinates to employ Ms. Laura Nash, Executive Assistant, IPRM. Further, we substantiated that Ms. Martinez misused her position when she took advantage of an inappropriate personal relationship with the former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Mr. Robert Howard, to move her duty station to Florida even though she spent almost 60 percent of her time at VA Central Office on official travel. We also substantiated that Ms. Martinez failed to provide proper contract oversight and did not properly fulfill her duties as a Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR). In addition, we substantiated that Ms. Kathryn Maginnis, Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary (ADAS), IPRM, abused her authority and (b)(6) and […redacted…], IPRM, engaged in prohibited personnel practices in the filling of four GS-15 positions.

Administrative Investigation Nepotism, Abuse of Authority, Misuse of Position, Improper Hiring, and Improperly Administered Awards, OI&T [August 2009, PDF]

We substantiated that Ms. Jennifer S. Duncan, former Executive Assistant to the former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Mr. Robert Howard, engaged in nepotism when she improperly advocated for the hiring and advancement of [redacted] within VA Office of Information and Technology (OI&T). We also substantiated that she abused her authority and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she improperly hired an acquaintance and friend and at a rate above the minimum rate of pay. Further, we found that Ms. Duncan’s [redacted], misused her own position for the private gain of [redacted]. We also substantiated that [redacted]; that they improperly utilized the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) and the Direct Hire Authority (DHA) to appoint Ms. Duncan’s family and friends; and that they were not fiscally responsible when they improperly administered awards. [Redacted], misused his position for the private gain of his [redacted] and [redacted] when he advocated for their VA appointments and (b)(6) his [redacted] above the minimum rate of pay. We further substantiated that [redacted] did not testify freely and honestly in matters relating to his employment and that he failed to properly discharge the duties of his position. Additionally, we substantiated that OI&T Managers improperly authorized academic degree funding for Ms. Duncan’s family and friends and for [redacted], that they improperly utilized the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) and the Direct Hire Authority (DHA) to appoint Ms. Duncan’s family and friends; and that they were not fiscally responsible when they improperly administered awards.

Sorry for all the redactions. It makes it a bit difficult to follow.

The reports are dry yet the subject matter is not at all dry. I was talking to one long-time federal IT insider who coined them ‘Sex, Lies, but without the video tape.’

The reports, however, will undoubtedly present a conundrum for VA and, specifically, for Baker. In fact, it is almost ironic because Howard’s tenure was really defined by that stolen stone VA laptop, and then these reports make it seem like VA was really scrambling to deal with that issue… and these other issues evolved out of that.

Baker has made some real strides to change the course at VA, which has long had a troubled VA culture. Earlier this year, of course, Baker put a hold on 45 IT projects because they were behind schedule or over budget — they were troubled. But these reports will likely force VA and Baker to do something, and many people are already speculating about how he can — and should — deal with it. One of the things that is very noticeable is that there are a lot of names — most of them redacted — in these reports. So was this pervasive throughout the VA?

We also have to remember that we are just hearing one part of this. I can only assume that we will hear much more in the months ahead.

Nextgov’s Nagesh posts a response from VA, which VA does not have posted online:

A VA spokesman issued the following statement about the reports: “VA is aware of the findings detailed in the OIG reports. VA expects our employees to set the highest levels of personal and professional conduct; therefore, we are extremely concerned by the descriptions of alleged improper conduct by VA staff. The department is aggressively pursuing a thorough review of the situation and will continue to work with the appropriate authorities. VA does not condone misconduct by its employees and will take the appropriate corrective action for those who violate VA policy.”

We don’t have word yet on what the appropriate corrective action will be.

I know Martinez — I have for years — and she has always seemed to be passionate about government service, although some described her as quirky in some ways. Nextgov links to an interview with Martinez in FedTech Magazine in a story about women in government IT. Here is one part of that story:

Martinez went to a women’s college and was the first woman to serve as deputy director of telecommunications at the Justice Department. She recognizes the challenges faced by women, but like many, counts on the quality of her work to erase some of the distinctions.

“I think I’m incredibly competent,” she says. “Yeah, it’s harder, and we have to prove ourselves all the time. But you’ve just got to love what you’re doing. At this point I ignore it — I just don’t notice it anymore.”

Read the full story here.