By now, we are virtually inured to any further misfeasance or malfeasance of personnel in the Human Resources Department down at 810 Penny Lane NW. After millions of OIG dollars squandered chasing down a hoodoo lane looking for who authorized the ice sculpture at the cheese tasting and rented the Karaoke machine in Orlando, the OIG has discovered yet again another little half a million faux pas up in Detroit. Seems one of our illustrious former VA colleagues (retired,rehired and now fired) found her job irresistible and leaned on a former acquaintance to squeeze back in. Dedication to one’s job for decades – even following retirement- is a quality hard to find in any employee. You ignore this opportunity at your own peril. Or do you?
Which makes it all the harder to comprehend why someone this flawed, with a well-know propensity to hurl expletives about like a drunken sailor, would be allowed back in to work for VA in any capacity above a janitor. Nevertheless, Ms. Mary Santiago, a former retired VA senior official, managed to put the squeeze on the reputedly rehabilitated Mr. John Sepulveda (of recent Orlando HR fame) and bagged a GS-15 slot in an admittedly cushy job counting heads at VET “job fairs”. From the OIG report:
Personnel records reflected that Ms. Santiago returned to Federal service, effective January 31, 2010, when she was appointed as a GS-15 Special Assistant to Mr. John Sepulveda, former HR&A Assistant Secretary, and in April 2010, she became the Deputy Dean of the VA Learning University (VALU). In an April 7, 2011, Advisory Memorandum (2011-00198-IQ-0002), VA OIG reported to VA’s Chief of Staff that Mr. Sepulveda did not exercise sound judgment or due diligence when he hired Ms. Santiago and others and that Ms. Santiago falsified a Declaration for Federal Employment, Optional Form (OF) 306, as part of her VA employment application by failing to disclose that she was [redacted] – (we can only theorize that what is missing here might be “a convicted felon; convicted of domestic violence; convicted of shoplifting; a felon convicted of 1st degree assault, etc.) The advisory prompted no action against Ms. Santiago, and she was later appointed as the Director of VESO in 2011. In a March 28, 2013, report (12-02503-151), VA OIG reported to the Acting HR&A Assistant Secretary that Ms. Santiago failed to properly supervise an employee that she knew worked at a non-VA second employment during his VA tours of duty and that she did not exercise the necessary supervisory oversight to ensure the employee took leave to cover his absences. Ms. Santiago retired from VA in November 2012, soon after this hiring fair investigation commenced.
Would that this was the end of the story. Alas, for poor Vets, it was just the beginning. In what turned out to be nothing more than another well-orchestrated VA Dog and Pony show, it cruelly held out hope for “employment challenged” Vets to a meet and greet with prospective employers reputedly drooling and trolling for valuable new ex-military types. Turns out that was all a ruse. None of the employers hornswoggled into setting up booths was hiring on site. They were simply there for the photo op.
In concert with her new drinking buddy and outside consultant, Ms. Katherine Nix, the dynamic duo set out to make some serious walking around money and con Uncle Sam out of even more. Kitty’s company, Serco Services, Inc., got a spiffy new contract to count heads at the job fairs using dysfunctional Earl Scheib, special software. About $510 K worth.
HOW BAD WAS IT?
It was so bad that the VA employee new-hires sat around updating their Facebook pages 60% of the time.
It was so bad that there were no written instructions on what to do or when/how to do it.
It was so bad, bored new employees quit in frustration.
It was so bad, Ms. Santiago would regularly go on the rampage and swear and cuss at the new-hires and tell them they were worthless and brain dead- usually with four-lettered words beginning with F or S.
It was so bad the software program to count ze Vets was hopelessly dysfunctional and could not even retrieve any useful data.
It was so bad someone erased the data that was collated and collected.
It was so bad, they cooked the numbers to make it look like a shit ton of Vets got jobs.
The last item might have been the deal breaker. You can blow smoke rings artfully and create elaborate Powerpoint presentations that dazzle the eye. You can cite to endless statistics (VA’s favorite fallback position) that proves unequivocally that the Earth is flat. You can assemble thousands of pages of evidence proving you put on one hell of a production and hundreds of Vets got jobs. But you cannot prevent employees from collecting individual exit polling data that damn your statistics to hell. Mary and Katie forgot that niggling little detail. Additionally, when you piss off the hired help, you always run the risk that someone will spill the beans. In a well-oiled conspiracy like this one, all it takes is one disgruntled individual. At the VA, it requires at least 20 who will corroborate each others’ story. You know those AFGE union guys will say anything to make life difficult for the higher-ups so the OIG is forced to sample a larger audience.
What amazes me is that they (OIG) even pretend to go through the motions anymore these days. This kind of malfeasance is rampant throughout the VA and everyone seems to pretend to be somewhat astonished each time it occurs. Committees are established to study the failures. New safeguards are put in place and regulations are drawn up thus preventing this type of error. Yet time and time again we’re horrified-nay-conflusticated to discover all the best-laid plans of the OIG are all for naught. Along come Mary and Kitty with a better mousetrap. But was it a better mousetrap or merely more of the same old claptrap that passes for a legitimate job in the hierarchy of the VA? If we review Ms. Santiago’s personnel folder, will we discover she was a recipient of the storied VA Bonus program year in and year out? Finding corruption at the VA is like tugging on a loose strand of yarn on a Walmart sweater. Before long it’s a pile of undone knitting on the floor.
A few presidents ago, we used to have one with “The buck stops here” on his desk. I know this is horribly judgmental and we know the VA Secretary already feels like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest, but. A big BUT. Who is minding the candy store here? Surely, it isn’t John Sepulveda. He didn’t even dial in on the helicopter rides or the free golf in Orlando. He failed the due diligence test on hiring Mary, let alone Serco and Kitty. So who is minding John, you might ask? We notice that soul is AWOL from this discussion. Perhaps what we need is one of those chain of command dealybobs that shows us (or the OIG) who’s the next fall guy above Mr. Sepulveda. Onward through the fog.