VA leaders defend chief of staff

The Veterans Affairs Department responded to lawmakers’ call for the removal of the VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich (pictured) by saying the agency already has dealt with several senior and career employees in the wake of its conference spending scandal.

In on Oct. 10 statement, a VA spokesman said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has addressed Gingrich’s conduct involving the 2011 conferences – though no details were provided on the exact reprimand or steps taken. The VA paid roughly $6.1 million for two conferences, but the planning was marred by leadership failures and ethical lapses, the VA’s inspector general found.

John Sepulveda, VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration, already stepped down from his post, and Shinseki put two career VA employees on leave pending review of their conduct. He is further investigating employees’ conduct as cited in the IG’s report released Oct. 1.

“As we said when this report was issued, any misuse of taxpayer dollars is unacceptable and that is why Secretary Shinseki took immediate action,” the spokesman said.

John Gingrich, VASen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), however, believe the spending decisions point directly to Gingrich’s leadership lapses and dismissal of oversight.

“The VA Chief of Staff cavalierly approved an exorbitant conference budget under the guise of a process meant to safeguard against” waste and overspending, the legislators wrote in an Oct. 9 letter to Shinseki.

Burr is the ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Miller is the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman. “Mr. Gingrich’s removal as chief of staff is the unequivocal way to deliver that message of accountability,” they wrote.

In December 2010, Gingrich approved Sepulveda’s $8 million budget for three conferences, even though it had minimal details and requested authorization to train 3,000 people at a cost of more than $2,600 per person.

In a statement to the IG, Gingrich acknowledged his mistakes.

“I signed the thing authorizing the conferences,” he told the IG’s investigators. “So, I should have made sure the conferences were executed better. Now, I think people should have done more prudent work. But, it’s my signature upon that page. And, I take the full responsibility. And, I should have asked, probably, harder questions than I did.” Gingrich added, though, that many other senior executives have responsibilities for the execution as well.

The IG recommended Shinseki confer with human resource officials outside VA’s central office and with attorneys in the General Counsel’s office to determine which action to take against Gingrich.

The VA spokesman also said Shinseki has implemented policies that strengthen oversight, improve accountability and safeguard taxpayer dollars.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Sat, Aug 2, 2014

I too served under Gingrich and he was a Great leader. I would have never thought he would choose to be so unempathetic about helping troops get the money we deserve. Seeing hundreds of dead bodies, firing artillery rounds for days is not natural, being stuck in mine fields unnatural, having to get high jacked and not eating not natural! Seeing your friends suffer severe burn wounds are not a joke. No sleep, Jody, and being haunted by bodies,skulls! So yes I filed for Ptsd, Yes too whom it may concern!!!

Thu, May 22, 2014

I served under Col Gingrich's command and he was passed over for General because he was a toxic leader. Why is Shinseki carrying him around all these years?

Mon, Mar 4, 2013 mark gibbs

This really disturbs me. I had the privilege of serving under COL. Gingrich's command on 2 separate occasions during my 22 years I served in the Army. During both of these tours COL. G was a man of honor and integrity. He always demanded the best from his officers, NCO'S and soldiers. He was the kinda leader you wanted in a combat zone. I find it very hard to believe he had any knowledge of fraud, waste or abuse. It bothers me to see this great Americans career tarnished. Faithful and True. Mark Gibbs SFC (R).

Fri, Jan 11, 2013 Thomas Eureka ca.

I think that the va as a whole is broken and needs to be fixed.the way that veterans are treated is shameful why it takes two years to find out if you are eligible for benefits is just wrong.Your doing a hell of a job there brownie USCG 72'-77'

Tue, Oct 23, 2012

Well, it seems interesting that nothing has come out about what disciplinarian action has been taken against the chief of staff. As he stated he's responsible. Let's do the right thing. Remember in the military you're expected to set the example, lead, and when circumstances come up a leader takes responsibility and makes the decision that is right for all, not protect an act that should result with disciplinary action. I guess this will not be dealt with so they can depart after the election with no blemish on his record.

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