One federal agency has refused to provide names of candidates up for consideration to the press for public scrutiny despite continued record of failure at the agency.
The selection of the Department of Veterans Affairs under secretary for benefits is well underway but the agency asserts providing names of candidates, or the names of those on the review board, to the public, will result in unwarranted interference in the process.
Specifically, a VA agency spokesman said public dissemination of the names would cause an unwarranted “interference” with the “process.”
Why is VA taking such an anti-press, anti-public scrutiny stance of its selection of one of the most broken divisions within VA?
For some background, I received reports concerning the selection of a new under secretary this weekend, and stakeholders expressed concern over the names being circulated.
Anti-Press, Anti-Public Scrutiny Stance?
I asked for the names of individuals intimately involved or up for evaluation, but VA refused to verify the reports or to provide any names. In response to my press inquiry, a VA spokesman replied:
The process on this must work without interference, so we do not impede it in any way.
Please find attached the News Release and Statute regarding the Under Secretary of Benefits Commission.
As stated in our vacancy announcement here is the evaluation process.
Step 1: [Application reviewed to determine if applicant meets] Minimum qualifications.
Step 2: Screening by Executive Board to determine group of candidates to be considered by the Commission.
Step 3: The Commission interviews the most qualified candidates.
Step 4: The Commission recommends the final candidates for consideration by the Secretary and the President.
Applicants will be evaluated based upon resume, application or curriculum vitae, and an interview if invited to appear before the Commission.
Why the need for secrecy? Is this the NSA or the VA?
VA clearly believes the former. And should we be surprised given that VA won the Golden Padlock Award in 2016 for being the most secretive federal agency?
VA even beat out DoD.
But should VA be entitled to such secrecy given the chronic fraud, waste, and abuse that has occurred over the past 80 years?
Can the agency be trusted to select competent leaders after decades of failures that ensured further waste and erosion of the public trust?
Names Of Those Selected For Review By Executive Board
Over the weekend, I was given the names of individuals involved in the process involving a review board convened to select the new VA under secretary of benefits.
Reports surfaced that Thomas Murphy, Curtis Coy and Al Poteet were being considered for recommendation to the Under Secretary of Benefits Commission.
The board is formally called the Executive Board.
Former under secretary Allison Hickey is reportedly on the Committee at the request of Secretary David Shulkin, MD. By regulation, the secretary is the only official who could invite Hickey to participate in the selection process.
Commission On Under Secretary For Benefits Selection
On March 15, 2017, VA announced it established the Commission to recommend an under secretary for benefits for confirmation before the Senate:
Search commission candidates will be selected based on criteria governed by law, along with appropriate skills, knowledge and attributes as leaders, managers and educators. The commission is a prerequisite to the president’s appointment of a successful candidate, subject to Senate confirmation.
By law, the appointment is made without regard to political affiliation and solely on the basis of demonstrated ability, both in fiscal management and in the administration of programs of VBA or of similar content and scope.
Criteria For Commission Members
According to 38 USC § 306, there are certain criteria the Commission is supposed to follow when selecting the nominee. There are also certain individuals required to be on the committee:
- Three persons representing education and training, real estate, mortgage finance, and related industries, and survivor benefits activities affected by the Veterans Benefits Administration.
- Two persons representing veterans served by the Veterans Benefits Administration.
- Two persons who have experience in the management of veterans benefits programs or programs of similar content and scope.
- The Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
- The chairman of the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education formed under section 3692 of this title.
- One person who has held the position of Under Secretary for Benefits (including service as Chief Benefits Director of the Veterans’ Administration), if the Secretary determines that it is desirable for such person to be a member of the commission.
Without regard to political affiliation or activity, the Commission must select the nominee “solely on the basis of demonstrated ability in”:
- fiscal management; and
- the administration of programs within the Veterans Benefits Administration or programs of similar content and scope.
Let’s Help The Under Secretary For Benefits Commission
I would like you, my researchers and readers, to take a little time to evaluate each of the candidates and report back what you find on each.
While there is not a lot of information about Al Poteet online, there is loads of data on Thomas Murphy.
We know the claims disability backlog started under his watch signifying policy changes he was responsible for led to a substantial increase and failure to timely adjudicate claims.
We know the appeals backlog at the Board of Veterans Appeals also started under his watch meaning his employees kicked the can down the road with bad decisions.
We know his staffers are teaching veteran service officers to pressure veterans into filing to reopen claims rather than appealing claims with a notice of disagreement. This scheme rips veterans off of earlier effective dates and makes the appeals backlog look artificially small.
What else can you all find out?
Reports are circulating that Thomas Murphy is the most likely choice for the position despite his checkered history.
Or, maybe his checkered past is that makes him the likely choice?