VA won’t oust chief of staff over conferences scandal

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs said they will not further punish Chief of Staff John Gingrich for his role in the Florida training conference scandal, despite calls from top Republicans for his resignation.

In a statement late Tuesday, the department said that “Mr. Gingrich’s conduct has been addressed by the Secretary” and that a further review of other employees’ actions is underway. Gingrich received a mild rebuke from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who called Gingrich’s oversight of the conferences “inadequate.”

Last week, a VA Inspector General report blasted top VA staffers for improperly accepting gifts and wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a pair of pricey training conferences in Florida in summer 2011.

About 1,800 department employees attended the training conferences, at a price tag of more than $6 million. Among the more egregious expenses were $50,000 for a conference video parodying the move “Patton,” $98,000 for promotional items such as tote bags and thumb drives, and $43,000 in extra pay for staff running the events.

VA Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration John Sepulveda resigned due to his role in the scandal, and at least two other employees have been placed on administrative leave.

On Tuesday, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called for Gingrich to be fired from his job.

“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,” they wrote in a letter to Shinseki.

“A message must be sent to all VA employees that perfunctory execution of so great a responsibility is inexcusable at any time, and at any level. Mr. Gingrich’s removal as Chief of Staff is the unequivocal way to deliver that message of accountability.”

In the Inspector General’s report, Gingrich accepted partial blame, saying he approved the conferences and should have better investigated the conduct of employees and costs of the event.

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