VA hands out employee bonuses too easily, audit finds

Veterans Health Administration and central office not adequately justifying millions in retention bonuses

The Veterans Affairs Department appears to be awarding millions of dollars in retention incentive payments to thousands of employees without adequate justifications, according to a new audit.

About 80 percent of such payments reviewed by the VA’s Office of Inspector General were found to be lacking in justification or documentation, the Nov. 14 audit stated.

The inspector general examined the practice of awarding retention incentives to employees in hard-to-fill positions, and employees with unique qualifications, at the Veterans Health Administration and VA Central Office.

In fiscal 2010, the department paid nearly $111 million in incentive payments to 16,487 employees, according to the Nov. 14 audit.

However, a review of 158 incentive payments totaling $1 million found a large majority to be questionable, the report said.

Of the 120 payments reviewed at the health administration, 80 percent were questionable. Of the 38 payments reviewed in the central office, 79 percent were questionable.

“We found VHA and VA Central Office approving officials did not adequately justify and document retention incentive awards in accordance with VA policy,” the auditors wrote. “VA lacked clear guidance, oversight, and training to effectively support the program. Officials did not effectively use the Personnel and Accounting Integrated Data system to generate timely review notices and did not always stop retention incentives at the end of set payment periods.”

The report recommended revised and clarified guidance, and better controls to ensure proper documentation. VA officials agreed with the recommendations.






About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 27, 2014 David Lind Portland

This article is a TOTAL lie. My supervisor has to go through an exhaustive explanation every year to justify retention allowances. And they only go out to a couple employees. The special skill set and experience some employees bring to the Federal Government (Veterans Administration) warrant these allowances. Let's not forget that the Federal Government has CUT wages by 10% over the past 4 years by not issuing any cost of living adjustments to its employees. Let's also not forget that we are paid on average LESS than the private sector employee for the same type of work. I think the Author of this article suffers from a severe case of hyper vigilance. God forbid some federal worker get paid a $1 more than they're worth ... Meanwhile the government spend hundreds and hundreds of billions on aircraft that we don't need or tanks that are antiquated. You are seriously a horrible person for writing this article. As of today, the Federal Government has taken away ALL retention incentives. Thanks a lot.

Wed, Dec 7, 2011 S E

The mandate apparently caused many within the hierarchy of the VA to come down on supervisor's rating on their staff. I had my annual rating reduced which was evident by a freeze on the employee review and quite a bit of white-out on my eval. The higher ups put so much pressure on supervisors, that many at the facility I work at do not get a bonus this year. We even have "mandatory" training so our center director can explain the rating system that he has imposed. This change has created a lot of havoc and absenteeism (sick-out?) is increasing. I am a military retiree, but this environment is so disheartening that I plan to leave the VA (here) as soon as I can. As an employee that takes pride in the amount of work I do to help veterans, it is appalling that those that work against getting the veterans the high level of care that is promised are rewarded.

Mon, Dec 5, 2011

Performance bonuses are just as screwed up these days as the process of selecting employees for Promotions. Between favoritism, nepotism, and any other "ism's" in the world that may apply, most of those getting promoted, or high awards, aren't getting those checks due to the ethics of the worker, but due to the subjective choice of the Supervisor & Management. It's an unfair attempt at rating employees, specifically when Agencies do spell out to those in charge, just how many at each level they can award. I've unfortunately worked in HR and other Branch positions wehre this information was easy to see & interpret, and have seen Veteranss highly qualified & in one case, disabled, not get jobs they were qualified to hold because they weren't the candidate the job was listed for! I screamed about this, now I'm as far away from Management & HR as you can get. I was even put on a Kit-line preparing kits for the Census after management noticed that I took their actions far too seriously. I reported activity that was illegal & was paid back nearly immediately. I specifically remember that that job listing was cancelled repeatedly until the Vet quit applying & the one chosen to be selected was there waiting for the 7-9-11 position. I saw last year (2010) where not one GS-06 within an Agency was rated at the 5 level. While that's a high level of accomplishment, surely there was one who actually deserved it within that whole Agency. If not, it shows even further what the constant demoralizing treatment of employees and the failure of Supervision & management has done to our workforce. You can't go to the Unions because it is the Unions that have caused most of our financial problems and workforce problems in the USA today. Our Union President clearly states that a good employee is not what they want to see! Union dues support pizza parties, elections to see who will go to Vegas for the Conventions, and to pay the Officers who don't pay dues, stipends for whatever they choose. Get a raise, quit paying Union Dues if you are presently! If management would lead by example, follow the rules as they insist upon others following the rules, the Fed. Workplace would return to what it used to be, a job where the employees were proud of contributing to the mission, not just an attempt to hold a job that pays regularly once you're permanent, where you do hardly anything at work so that you can save up energy for the party tonigh!

Mon, Dec 5, 2011 LB

While working for the VHA I saw bonuses going to processors for the "quantity" of claims processed. No "quality" standards were set and when claims came back wrong the processors kept the bonus. Did they get a second bonus for doing it over again? I don't know. There was no bonus for the people who kept things running (IT, supply etc). I'm glad I don't work there anymore.

Mon, Dec 5, 2011

What never gets mentioned are the details. All justification for incentives are on the left side of the Official Personnel file. The VA went to electronic records and threw out everything on the left side as there was no retention requirement. So puff went all the documentation. And so the IG comes in and says there was no justification making themselves look like geniuses.

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