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St. Paul VA official a no-show at House hearing on relocation scandal

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An official with the Department of Veterans Affairs in St. Paul was one of five agency employees who failed to appear at a Congressional hearing in Washington D.C. Wednesday to discuss allegations they manipulated the agency's hiring system for their own personal benefit.

As a result, the House Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to issue subpoenas compelling the officials to testify at another committee hearing on Nov. 2, according to the Military Times.

Kimberly Graves, the current director of the St. Paul Regional Benefit Office, and another high-level official with the Veterans Benefits Administration in Philadelphia, are accused of using their positions of authority to orchestrate new job openings for themselves, and then volunteering to fill them, according to a report last month from the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

Graves’ reassignment resulted in “a significant decrease in job responsibilities,” yet she retained her salary of $173,949. Graves also claimed $129,467.56 in expenses associated with her move to Minnesota, the statement says.

VA leaders had asked the committee to wait until it completes its own review of the matter and decides whether to discipline the employees involved, and directed the five officials not to appear at the hearing, according to the Military Times.

But committee members were clearly frustrated by that response, and accused the VA of "hiding" from Congress.

“There is ample evidence that VA does not act quickly enough on accountability," said Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., according to the Times. "We will not aid VA in its ‘business as usual’ routine.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota, a member of the committee, introduced the motion to subpoena the VA officials.

“The activities documented in the report are troubling and unacceptable. Testifying before Congress is critical to ensuring accountability in this matter,” Walz said in a statement released by his office.

The Times notes this is just the latest chapter in an increasingly adversarial relationship between the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the VA.

Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said he will decide by the end of the month whether Graves or any of the other employees should be disciplined. He told the committee in a letter that forcing the five officials to testify in public could compromise his investigation, the Associated Press reports.

The Office of the Inspector General also referred the two cases to a federal prosecutor for possible charges.

Federal regulations do not allow the VA to reduce their annual salaries upon reassignment, but the agency is looking into whether to require the women to pay back the relocation costs.

The VA canceled the relocation bonus program a few days ago, the Star Tribune reports. Under that program, agency employees who can't sell their houses when they get a job transfer receive compensation from the federal government.

According to the Military Times, the Veterans Benefits Administration spent more than $1.5 million on 21 "questionable" senior executive reassignments over the past three fiscal years.

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