VA probe finds misuse of time, resources in Indy health office

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The Veterans Health Administration says a supervisor in Indianapolis misused government time and resources in setting up an outside company and soliciting subordinates to join his business.

The activity violated federal rules that prohibit government workers from using email and other resources for unofficial purposes, according to the Office of Inspector General of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA supervisor and the company were not identified.

The inspector general’s office issued a report this month outlining the activities and recommending the government determine the appropriate administrative action.

The investigation began in June 2017 after the inspector general’s office received a tip that a supervisory industrial engineer was misusing VA time and equipment.

The Veterans Health Administration describes itself as America’s “largest integrated health care system,” providing care at 1,243 health care facilities, including the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center, 1481 W. 10th St., in Indianapolis.

The activities in question started in November 2016, a few months after the VA announced it was merging two of its operations, the Veterans Engineering Resource Center and the Office of Strategic Integration. The merger led to discussions and rumors of layoffs.

One of the supervisors at the Veterans Engineering Resource Center in Indianapolis, who worked remotely from his home in another state, started hosting calls with his team so they could “vent their frustrations about the potential layoffs.”

The resource center works to improve veterans’ care through the use of Six Sigma, simulation modeling, human-factors analysis and other tools, according to the VA website.

On November 15, 2016, the supervisor sent a lengthy email from his VA email account to 41 VA employees, referring to them as the “Dream Team.” He called the email, which was sent at 10:58 p.m., his “Midnight Missive.”

The email “expressed both his frustration with management and his desire to keep the team together,” the report said. “He proposed the team work together to start a new company.”

Over the following weeks, he sent several more emails, and several VA employees discussed how to register the business, set up a website and file for tax purposes.

The supervisor assumed the president’s position. Two other VA employees became the director and the treasurer. At one point, the company consisted of 43 VA employees.

One VA employee sent an email suggesting that they use personal email and correspond about the business after hours. However, the Office of Inspector General found numerous emails and instant messages between VA employees using their government systems to begin the planning of the startup business.

However, it appears the business never got much traction. After the OSI deadline for layoffs was extended, employees perceived the outside company as less necessary of an employment option. Several key employees quit the outside company, and it disbanded without ever procuring any contracts or generating any revenue.

Still, the inspector general’s report is recommending that VA officials determine “appropriate administrative action” against three key employees of the outside company.

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