VA IG finds abuse of authority and ethical breaches in IT office

Two reports from the inspector general detail separate allegations of misconduct

The Veterans Affairs Department’s inspector general believes that high-ranking officials abused their authority, misused their positions, engaged in prohibited personnel practices, improperly administered awards and engaged in nepotism while working in the department’s information technology office.

IG investigations of the conduct of people in the IT office substantiated the claims of ethical violations, according to two heavily redacted reports released Aug. 18.

Update: VA responds to IG findings.

According to one report, Katherine Adair Martinez, VA’s deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management, misused her position, abused her authority and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she influenced a contractor working for VA and then the VA to hire her friend, Laura Nash.

Martinez also “took advantage of an inappropriate personal relationship” with Robert Howard, the then-assistant secretary for information technology, to move her workplace to Florida even though she spent almost 60 percent of her time at VA’s central office, the report states. The IG also concluded that Martinez failed to provide proper contractor oversight.

Meanwhile, Kathryn Maginnis, associate deputy assistant secretary for IPRM, abused her authority and engaged in prohibited personnel practices when she improperly filled four senior-level positions, according to the IG.

The IG recommended that VA take administrative action against Martinez and Maginnis. In a response to a draft of the IG report dated July 30, Roger Baker, the VA’s assistant secretary for IT, agreed. It was unclear late Thursday if he had taken action yet.

Meanwhile, Howard, a political appointee who left the agency at the end of the George W. Bush administration, declined to comment to Federal Computer Week.

In a separate report, the IG said Jennifer Duncan, the former executive assistant to Howard, engaged in nepotism and that she abused her authority when she improperly hired an acquaintance and friend at a rate above the minimum rate of pay. The IG also said she used her position for private gain.

In a memo dated Aug. 3, Baker, once again agreed with the IG’s recommendations. This time there were 34 recommendations involving improper use of funds, appointments and training for the IT office’s employees.

Bob Woods, who served as VA’s chief information officer from 1991-1994 said the VA is not the kind of place you want to engage in anything that could be misinterpreted. He added that image and appearances are important and that these types of incidents end up hurting the individuals the most, and it's hard not to have sympathy if you know the people involved.

“In any of these very public positions you’re exposed to this kind of scrutiny and people are going to second guess what you did and why,” said Woods, president of Topside Consulting.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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