tampabay.com

Recipients also approved bonuses

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 16, 2007


WASHINGTON - Nearly two dozen officials who received hefty performance bonuses last year at the Veterans Affairs Department also sat on the boards charged with recommending the payments.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press raise questions of conflicts of interest or appearances of conflicts in connection with the bonuses, some of which went to senior officials involved in crafting a budget that came up $1.3-billion short and jeopardized veterans' health care.

The documents show that 21 of 32 officials who were members of VA performance review boards received more than half a million dollars in payments themselves.

Among them: nearly a dozen senior officials who devised the flawed 2005 budget. Also rewarded was the deputy undersecretary for benefits, who manages a system with severe backlogs of veterans waiting for disability benefits.

Deputy undersecretaries who sit on the review boards, which are appointed by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, also had input on bonus recommendations involving themselves, fellow members and spouses that made questionable performance claims and neglected agency problems.

The VA, which has defended the bonuses as necessary to retain hardworking senior employees, says board members do not participate in bonus decisions that involve themselves or fellow board members. In those cases, recommendations are made by agency heads in consultation with deputy undersecretaries, who usually serve as supervisors to their fellow board members, the agency says.

In one case, Michael Walcoff, associate deputy undersecretary for field operations who sits on two of the review boards, and his wife, Kimberly, a VA director, received bonuses totaling $42, 000.