Congressional Republicans call for resignation of VA chief of staff

Veterans Affairs Department

This story has been updated.

Senior congressional Republicans on Tuesday called for the resignation of John Gingrich, chief of staff at the Veterans Affairs Department, following a report detailing improper spending at VA conferences.

In an Oct. 5 letter, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, asked VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to remove Gingrich from his job.

“With the utmost respect for Mr. Gingrich’s service to the nation in uniform and in public service, we believe the appropriate administrative action is his immediate removal as VA chief of staff,” Miller and Burr wrote.

Miller and Burr cited Gingrich’s approval of an$8 million budget for two 2011 human resources conferences in Florida that were later found to be wasteful. Gingrich provided only “the appearance of oversight,” the lawmakers said.

“Accountability begins at the top,” they added. “In this instance, the VA chief of staff cavalierly approved an exorbitant conference budget under the guise of a process meant to safeguard against that very occurrence.”

A report by the VA inspector general’s office detailing the department’s excessive conference spending already claimed the job of John Sepulveda, the assistant secretary for human resources and administration. In addition, two employees were placed on administrative leave, pending review, as a result of the report’s findings.

The report said the department spent more than $6 million during the summer of 2011 on two conferences, a portion of which went to a parody video, artisan cheese displays, karaoke equipment and spa treatments. The IG said the spending failures were attributed mainly to poor “contract execution,” and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki had instituted measures to increase oversight.

As The Washington Post noted, Gingrich served in the Army for 30 years before retiring as a colonel in 2001. He also was as a top aide during Shinseki’s tenure as the Army’s chief of staff.

In a statement issued on Wednesday night, a VA spokesman said that the department had addressed Gingrich’s conduct, and placed two other employees on leave pending review of their actions. Additionally, the VA has implemented measures to increase accountability for conferences costing more than $20,000. Events with a price tag of more than $100,000 now require approval by the deputy secretary and the chief of staff.

“At the secretary’s direction, VA has implemented a comprehensive action plan to revise and strengthen policies and controls on the planning and execution of training conferences as recommended in the final OIG report,” the spokesman stated. “Secretary Shinseki and the entire team at the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue our work to serve America’s veterans.”

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