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.


Related story:

VA responds to IG reports of misconduct in IT office


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.

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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Reader Comments

Fri, Aug 28, 2009

What is even sadder is that some of the folks involved continue to walk the halls as if nothing happened! It's amazing to me that VA is even considering the possibility of OIT becoming an administration like VHA, VBA or NCA. What occurred is mismanagement at its worst and a total disregard for taxpayer money.

Wed, Aug 26, 2009

The people who are accused of the illegal hiring also felt they were untouchable. I'm sure if the IG digs deeper, they will find a lot more with the people who are involved. This is a very sad day for the veterans who have fought for our country.

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 Jim Little Rock

Interesting comments... I am a VA IT employee and see abuses quite often, I even fight some of them, but the good OLD boy network is strong within the VA... I've had the VA IG tell me that waste of under $1 million, was below their current level of inspection at that time... And I've not heard back from them since. And I have a supervisor that about every day lets us know how he feels about HIS management... He simply feels untouchable at this point as he has been there for over 40 years... Sad, very sad.

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 K9USAFRet

I concur with Fritz but will go a few steps further. The VA OIT community is closed to anyone capable of throwing a rod in the engine, showing them a better more efficient way of doing things, or rocking their little empires. When the UnderSecretary of the Veterans Health Administration is forced to resign over the failure of these negligent, conceited, pompous, and overpaid programmers to put together a patient scheduling package after 10 years and millions of dollars, things are bad. Every IT administrator, manager, team leader and programmer needs to be summarily dismissed and new blood injected. We have seen the enemy and he is us.

Mon, Aug 24, 2009 Fritz

Both my younger brother and sister in law have worked for the VA for many years. they have told me stories of their experiences with the IT department hiring practices at the VA hospital they work at. I am in the IT field and have applied for several IT positions there and I have never received a rejection letter or phone call. I am not surprised there was nepotism and other abuses of power with the VA at other work sites

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