VA bonus package bad call

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, under fire for treatment delays and preventable deaths at VA hospitals and clinics, deserves veterans’ and other taxpayers’ outrage on another front.

An agency so troubled should not have awarded 65 percent of its senior executives performance bonuses totaling $2.7 million last year. Most veterans and other taxpayers no doubt ascribe to the correct viewpoint that zero bonuses should have been handed out.

The bonuses disclosure came during a hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Friday. The hearing removed any doubt about the VA’s lack of respect for “other people’s money.”

Actually, where the taxpayers’ money is at stake, no bonuses ever should be awarded – not on the federal, state, county, municipal, or public school district levels. Doing otherwise is an affront to the people who ultimately pay for such misguided generosity – many of those people hard-pressed to meet their tax obligations.

No amount of criticism leveled at the VA in recent weeks regarding the problems in veterans care can be construed as excessive. The bonuses disclosure merely adds to the unconscionable conduct of this government agency that should set a high standard for good judgment and stellar performance, not be a candidate for a major makeover and new leadership on many levels.

At Friday’s hearing, Gina Farrisee, assistant VA secretary for human resources and administration, provided the “good” news that the 2013 bonuses were less than the bonuses total for 2012 – $3.4 million.

She defended the practice of handing out bonuses, claiming that the additional compensation helps the VA compete with the private sector in recruiting and retaining the best personnel to serve veterans.

She said the VA “must rely on tools such as incentives and awards that recognize superior performance.”

The problems in veterans care for which the agency is being bombarded with criticism indicates that in a big way the VA isn’t getting its money’s worth. That must change.

Likewise, the agency’s flawed attitude in the handling of the taxpayer money in question needs to be eradicated.

Last year’s $2.7 million is not a huge amount when stacked up against the VA’s total yearly spending. But it’s a significant amount from the taxpayers’ perspective.

VA executives aren’t being paid poverty wages; some of the executives are paid up to $181,000 a year.

Meanwhile, what Farrisee failed to emphasize is that there are benefits to working for the VA that are not always guaranteed in the private sector, such as opportunities for earlier retirement, as well as top-notch health care coverage and job security.

Those benefits alone are magnets for attracting qualified people. Dangling the prospect of bonuses in front of prospective candidates for employment shouldn’t be necessary.

In respect to the veterans who have been wronged, Congress should prohibit the VA from granting future bonuses. At the same time Congress should order an inquiry into bonus practices in all federal departments and report those findings, including amounts, to the taxpayers.

The disclosures regarding the VA bonuses were troubling. What other bonus practices are in play in the government might be mind-boggling.