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.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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