The Inspector General came out with his report on Veteran Administration Secretary David Shulkin’s July trip to Europe. You can read the full report here: https://www.va.gov/oig/pubs/VAOIG-17-05909-106.pdf. Herewith, some highlights:
1. Less than two weeks before the 11-day trip began, the Secretary sent out a memo to VA employees titled “Essential Employee Travel.” The memorandum instructed staff that before approving any employee travel, managers must determine whether the travel is “essential” in order to decrease “employee travel and generate savings” within VA.
2. The trip included 3.5 days of conference and meetings in Denmark to study their veteran’s programs and facilities. Given the vast Danish army, one understands the need for that detour.
3. The VA paid for Dr. Shulkin’s wife’s travel because Dr. Shulkin’s chief of staff represented to the VA that Dr. Bari (aka Mrs. Shulkin) was an “invited guest” for an award ceremony. There was no award or ceremony. It strikes the Barometer that the VA has a way to go before being in award territory. The IG made a criminal referral to the Justice Department for possible prosecution for the fraudulent statements about the award. The DOJ declined prosecution at this time.
4. Dr. Shulkin and his wife received tickets to the women’s finals at Wimbledon from someone they called as friend of Dr. Bari (Mrs. Shulkin). When the IG’s office interviewed the “friend,” after 19 attempts to contact her, the “friend” could not recall or did not know Dr. Bari’s first name. The VA ethics officer had approved the gift of the tickets under the “relationship”exception to federal officials accepting gifts.
5. The total cost of the trip for Dr. Shulkin and his wife was $122,334, not counting the time a staff member spent arranging all of the leisure travel for the secretary and his wife. The OIG concluded that this VA staff member became the secretary’s travel concierge.
One observer said, “A lot of them may want him to go, but who would replace him?”
Perhaps someone who has respect for the limited resources of the VA and believes those resources should go to veterans and not European excursions. Can the VA really get better under a leader with such a tin ear on both spending and example?