Top Veterans Affairs HR exec resigns ahead of IG report

This story has been updated.

The Veterans Affairs Department’s Chief Human Capital Officer John Sepulveda resigned Sunday in advance of an inspector general report on VA’s spending on human resources training conferences.

The report alleges Sepulveda failed to properly advise his senior executives, did not attempt to keep costs down but said said he did, and lied about his knowledge of an expensive parody video.

A VA spokesman confirmed in a statement to Government Executive that the department had accepted Sepulveda’s resignation -- news first reported by Federal News Radio.

Reports surfaced this summer that VA’s inspector general’s office was investigating two extremely costly human resources training conferences at which employees may have received improper gifts.

The IG’s office released its final report on that investigation Monday. It concluded that the department spent more than $6 million on two 2011 conferences in Orlando, Fla.

The report said Sepulveda “abdicated his responsibilities when he failed to provide proper guidance and oversight to his senior executives.” The IG’s office also said Sepulveda made false statements while under oath during the investigation. According to the report, Sepulveda said he was not involved with a $50,000 George S. Patton parody video, but several individuals testified that he had in fact viewed the videos. Sepulveda had written in a memo before the conferences saying the planning committee was “pursuing all efforts to constrain and control cost,” but investigators said actions did not reflect this.

VA said two other employees have been “place on administrative leave pending review,” but would not elaborate on which two employees, citing privacy considerations. Eleven employees, including several “high-grade, supervisor-level” workers, violated federal law in accepting gifts from contractors. The gifts included free meals, transportation, gift baskets, spa treatments and tickets for a Rockettes performance.

The report specifically named several VA executives in addition to Sepulveda for leadership failures -- including Alice Muellerweiss, dean of the VA Learning University, and Tonya Deanes, deputy assistant secretary for the Human Resources Management Office -- and redacted the names of many others.

“While the IG report makes clear that ‘VA held these conferences to fulfill valid training needs’ and ‘offered legitimate, substantive training courses at the conferences,’ this does not excuse the misconduct of even a few individuals,” VA said in a statement Monday. “Misuse of taxpayer dollars is completely unacceptable. The actions cited in the report represent serious lapses in oversight, judgment and stewardship.”

Sepulveda served as VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration since May 2009. He previously worked as deputy director of the Office of Personnel Management during the Clinton administration and at the Housing and Urban Development Department and the Federal Housing Administration.

Sepulveda told Federal Times in an interview that he stepped down because of the IG report. The VA said Monday that Secretary Eric Shinseki will appoint senior officials to review evidence of wrongdoing and the department placed two other employees on administrative leave, pending review.

Eric Katz contributed to this story.

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