Justice Department declines to prosecute VA employees who defrauded $400K, and who still have jobs
The mainstream media have been ignoring a story of outrageous abuse by federal employees that has just been rubber-stamped by Loretta Lynch’s prosecutors at the D.C. U.S. attorney’s office. The first report was carried by the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday and picked up by the Washington Examiner yesterday. It is enough to make any taxpayer’s blood boil and has great potential as a news story. Yet for the moment, it exists in one Texas city and the conservative blogosphere only. Sarah Westwood reports for the Examiner:
A pair of Department of Veterans Affairs officials who defrauded the VA for $400,000 will not face any criminal charges, despite an inspector general's request that they both face a criminal investigation.
In an inspector general report made public in September, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves were both accused of manipulating a VA program meant to ease the strain of moving agency employees between cities. The watchdog referred the matter to the Department of Justice for a criminal inquiry.
But prosecutors in the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia ruled against pursuing charges late last week, the Houston Chronicle reported Tuesday, effectively eliminating any possibility that the two officials will face consequences for their actions.
The VA declined to fire Rubens and Graves in November. Although the agency planned instead to demote the embattled officials, a paperwork mistake spared the two from even that minimal punishment.
Wikipedia summarizes the caper:
In 2014 Rubens volunteered for a transfer from the D.C. regional office to the Philadelphia regional office to fill an opening that held considerably less responsibilities. She and her peer Kimberly Graves were allegedly informed by superior Allison Hickey, the former VA undersecretary for benefits, of loopholes within the VA's employee transfer program that would allow them to pocket large sums of taxpayer dollars.
Isn't that great? Her boss told her how to game the system. Why, you'd almost think bureaucrats are a self-interested group who don't care about taxpayers at all, but regard them as suckers to be played.
Hickey resigned her post in October 2015 amid investigations into her role aiding the two women in their transfer scheme. The VA announced it would review its transfer program due to the growing number of cases involving abuse of authority.
Rubens expensed nearly $275,000 in moving fees to the VA while relocating to Philadelphia, attracting the attention of the VA's inspector general. Upon investigation, it was learned that Rubens had used her position to pressure a subordinate to leave their job at the Philadelphia office, thus opening that position. Rubens then volunteered for the position that held significantly reduced responsibilities, but managed to retain her $181,000 salary. Rubens and was transferred to a separate location and demoted while under investigation.
Rubens and Graves both made appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board and pleaded the Fifth amendment regarding the allegations. The Inspector General recommended the Justice Department proceed with criminal charges.
A judge overturned Rubens’ demotion in January 2016, sparking outrage. The court stated that punishing Rubens and Graves was inconsistent disciplining behavior by the VA, since it had not similarly punished other employees that had committed offenses. The judge also cited her superiors’ foreknowledge of her intent as evidence that no laws had been broken. Rubens was reinstated effective immediately and was awarded back-pay.
This incident will be worth it to taxpayers if the two become the poster girls for pushing through civil service reform as an early priority of the Trump administration. As I wrote the morning after Election Day, civil service reform is an essential prerequisite for reining in the abuses of the federal bureaucracy and the administrative state that makes laws and issues subpoenas without any judicial or congressional sanction.
The federal government requires structural reform. Because it is very expensive and time-consuming to fire anyone, bad behavior is not just tolerated, but propagated. Civil service protections originally intended to guard against a politicized bureaucracy have now become guarantors of the high-handedness and lack of accountability we saw with Lois Lerner, now retired with a six-figure pension after pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Government employee unions have become a mainstay of the Democratic Party, with employee dues, harvested from taxpayers via salaries, laundered into the party’s coffers. So the Democrats will fight like hell, up to and including a filibuster, mass demonstrations, and possible violence. Donald Trump will need to persuade the public, and mobilize public opinion against those Democrat senators who resist the reform movement. There are 23 Democrat senators up for re-election in 2018, and some of them must be made to get very nervous.
I would suggest beginning with a bill to fire any federal employee who takes the Fifth Amendment with regard to behavior related to duties in office. The Democrats will cry that the Fifth Amendment is a constitutionally guaranteed right, so no retaliation is possible, of course. But there is a well known precedent to the contrary: breath or blood tests for drivers suspected of driving under the influence. They retain their right not to incriminate themselves, but in most states, they lose their driver’s license. That license is not a right. And neither is a federal job.
Lois Lerner is the ideal object lesson to close the argument. She persecuted ordinary Americans and got away with it.
We can now add Ms. Rubens and Ms. Graves to the list of object lessons. All of them should be subpoenaed to testify before committees on the nature of their actions and the benefits they still enjoy.
The DoJ handed us lemons, so let’s make some lemonade.