Rep. Mike Coffman reminds VA chief of promise to deal swiftly with problem employees.

Rep. Mike Coffman reminds VA chief of promise to deal swiftly with problem employees. Flickr user House GOP

Controversial VA Procurement Officer Should Be Fired, Lawmaker Says

Rep. Coffman cites IG’s criminal referral of Susan Taylor for conflict of interest.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a longtime critic of the Veterans Affairs Department, has asked newly installed VA Secretary Robert McDonald to terminate the deputy chief procurement officer of the Veterans Health Administration for her dealings with the private reverse auction company FedBid.

Susan Taylor, it appears, “has violated numerous federal laws and regulations, and has perpetrated at least 10 of the violations listed on VA’s Table of Penalties,” Coffman wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to the secretary, who has promised to deal swiftly with problem employees under the VA reform law signed by President Obama in August.

 “It is apparent that Ms. Taylor is the personification of the morally bankrupt and ethically impaired culture that exists within the department,” wrote Coffman, who chairs the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

VA Assistant Inspector General for Investigations James O’Neill wrote in a Sept. 26 report that his team substantiated that Taylor “engaged in conduct prejudicial to the government when she pressured contracting staff under her authority to give preference to and award a task order for reverse auction services to FedBid Inc. We also found that she engaged in a conflict of interest when she improperly acted as an agent of FedBid in matters before the government, improperly disclosed non-public VA information to unauthorized persons, misused her position and VA resources for private gain, and engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when she recommended that a subordinate senior executive service employee be removed from [the SES] during her probation period, as Ms. Taylor identified the subordinate as the person she suspected of making protected disclosures of Ms. Taylor’s ethic violations.”

The IG further found that Taylor interfered with the watchdog’s review of the FedBid contract. The office referred the conflict of interest and false statements charges to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, but Justice declined to act.

Taylor’s actions came at a time when an oversight official at the department had declared a moratorium on using the reverse auctions championed by FedBid. Reverse auctions are a bidding method practice intended to save the government money on information technology products, medical equipment and supplies.  Coffman attacked the method as unfair to competing suppliers at a hearing last December.

Taylor also came under fire for making improper disclosures of nonpublic information to FedBid representatives to benefit the company’s efforts to win agency work and for violating the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s gratuity clause by accepting wine from private sector employees.

Notably, “Taylor made a conscious decision to not separate her personal from professional life, at least as far back as her [Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.] employment when she allowed [William] Dobrzykowski, her paramour, to be hired as a contractor in her department. When questioned, she freely made false statements to PBGC officials so as not to disclose the true nature of their relationship. She also said that she was ‘offended by accusations’ that they were anything other than friends, yet when she made that declaration, under penalty of perjury, they had been engaged for over 2 years.”

Coffman also said the watchdog report shows that FedBid “was actively conspiring to defame an honorable public servant in an attempt to protect a friendly, corrupt bureaucrat and continue pushing a system of contracts that undercut fair competition. When coupling that with FedBid’s engagement in inherently governmental functions, I would call upon VA to examine whether FedBid remains a ‘responsible contractor.’ ”

He gave McDonald until Oct. 17 to describe his plan of action regarding Taylor.

A VA spokeswoman said as of Thursday Taylor remains employed at the department.

A FedBid spokesman said in an email to Government Executive, “We are enormously proud of the role that FedBid is playing, and will continue to play, in facilitating millions in cost savings for U.S. taxpayers. Last year alone, FedBid total marketplace volume was over $1.8 billion, which enabled an estimated $160 million in savings for the government and taxpayers.”

The spokesman added: “While we continue to believe that FedBid has acted appropriately, we take the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Inspector General report very seriously. As a result, we are closely reviewing any potential concerns outlined in the report and will take appropriate steps necessary to ensure that FedBid continues to operate with the highest standards of integrity and transparency while providing the utmost value to our customers.”

(Image via Flickr user House GOP)