Oversight

Congress probes whether VA violated law in job change

Stephen Warren

Stephen Warren, who has led VA's IT operations in an acting capacity since March, takes center stage as Congress investigates the agency.

Congress' escalating investigation into Department of Veterans Affairs IT security, prompted by at least nine state-sponsored data breaches at the agency, includes a thorough vetting of Stephen Warren, whose title recently changed to CIO and Executive in Charge of VA's Office of Information and Technology.

A Oct. 22 House Veterans Affairs Committee memo requested the agency provide answers to a variety of IT-related questions, and also cited the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998, noting that agencies are required to report to Congress and the Government Accountability Office when a vacant executive position is filled temporarily for longer than 210 days. The committee memo asked whether VA Secretary Eric Shinseki planned to appoint a permanent CIO, and suggested VA may have violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act in failing to report Warren's extended tenure.

Warren assumed the acting assistant secretary for OIT position on March 8 -- 228 days before the Oct. 22 House committee's letter.  However, in a statement emailed to FCW, a VA spokesperson said Warren's appointment as acting assistant secretary ran from March 8 to Oct. 5, 210 days. The statement said Warren "reverted back to principal deputy assistant secretary from Oct. 6 through Oct. 16," and was not acting assistant secretary during that time.

A VA spokesperson told FCW that the agency signed a submission on Oct. 7 under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to notify Congress and GAO the assistant secretary for the office of information and technology was vacant, but it never reached Congress.

"Although the form was completed and signed, nothing was sent to Congress or GAO due to an internal administrative issue," the spokesperson said. VA did not provide details on the administrative issue, and declined FCW's request for documentation of Warren's Oct. 5 change of status.   

Warren became the agency's CIO and executive in charge of OIT effective Oct. 17, according to the spokesperson. The assistant secretary position, a Senate-confirmed job, is now considered vacant and Warren has not been nominated for the job.  However, the VA spokesperson said Warren now has all the authorities former CIO and Assistant Secretary for OIT Roger Baker possessed before he left the job in March, including statutory budget authority for the department's IT investments.

A Capitol Hill official familiar with the investigation told FCW the committee received no report, and was alerted to the change in Warren's title only on Oct. 30 -- approximately 235 days after Warren became acting CIO. The source said the lack of notification ruffled feathers within the committed and reinforced the image of  VA as an agency that avoids transparency when possible.

"The timeline regarding Warren's job titles is important to ensure VA is complying with the letter and spirit of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998," the source said.

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Reader comments

Fri, Nov 8, 2013

Why would Secretary Shinseki do this? Apparently he imagines he is still in the military and thinks he can call an old West Point buddy and get his way. Steph Warren is not worth wasting political capital and standing. He is incompetent and a poor choice for the job. Roger Baker has barely been gone long enough for the chair to go cold, and VA awards a contract for the development of the electronic health record to the team Agilex is on. The bid price was 3 times that of the next bidder. For all the rooting around the IG does on minor things, this stinking pile is right under their noses. By the time EHR goes the way of the ACA debacle, Roger will be spending his bonus and Steph will be somewhere else.

Thu, Nov 7, 2013

I encountered Mr Warren at FTC and he was not entirely honest then. An interesting development all told. Why don't they name a CIO or name him CIO? Whats going on there?

Thu, Nov 7, 2013

Do the right thing and step down Mr. Warren!

Wed, Nov 6, 2013

Did Congress forget we were furloughed for 16 days? All kinds of processes at my agency have been screwed up because "essential" items moved forward and "non-essential" items are now behind their original schedule. However it does sound like VA has been doing things incorrectly for some time with this type of promotion...

Wed, Nov 6, 2013 OccupyIT

On one hand this seems like such a petty issue - 201 days vs. 235 days - who cares, right? On the other hand it is indicative of a broader erosion of ‘administrative morality’ that has eaten away at the Feds over the last 10-15 years. There are Feds that literally don’t believe that laws apply to them. That, as long as they can justify to themselves that they are doing the best they can under the circumstances, they can ignore reality, processes, contracts, the FAR, physics, and the law while they disrespect, mislead, and simply lie to oversight (don’t get me started!) and the people trying to do the work (other direct hires and contractors). How does an agency find itself in the position of having to break the law anyway? Because it can’t get its act together. They are sly enough to, at least after the fact, remove the CIO from acting on EXACTLY the day the law requires their action, but not effective enough to actually name him CIO or forward a notice they say they created to Congress. The Kabuki Theater plays itself out across the Federal Government every day. I think the lack of accountability has fed this cancer and only the application of accountability can cure it over time. Alas, I don’t see anyone being held accountable. I fear it may indicate that nobody else believes the laws are real or relevant either. That way lays chaos…

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