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VA Faces Critics Over Management Practices


The array of issues maintenance and engineering managers face daily can be daunting. Their challenges are related to everything from roofing systems and grounds care, including the reliable performance of essential systems, including HVAC, electrical distribution, and plumbing. They also are responsible for budgeting, staffing and regulatory compliance, among a host of management matters.

These challenges multiply almost exponentially when the organization in question operates over a wide area in a large number of facilities. Consider the example of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which operates 150 hospitals and more than 1,000 clinics and centers nationwide to meet the needs of more than 5 million patients annually.

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The VA recently came in for criticism and scrutiny related to two facilities-related issues, according to an article in Government Executive. The department was hit by three highly critical letters of referral to Congress and the president in whistleblower cases probed by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). The separate cases documented staff failures at VA medical centers to respond to reports of unfair barriers to patients needing organ transplants, a slow response to unsanitary conditions in spinal cord care, and an unethical procurement of landscaping supplies.

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In January, the OSC urged the VA to remove an employee at one medical center involved in a contract for snow removal and grounds-keeping materials that favored a family member.

“By allowing an employee who engaged in this conduct to remain with the agency, the VA demonstrates a shocking degree of indifference to government ethical standards, procurement regulations, and public integrity,” Kerner wrote. Two employees steered contracts worth $1 million to a family business to supply rock salt, mulch, and crushed stone. The facilities maintenance and grounds supervisor also helped win contracts for his son, the owner of the landscaping firm.

The OSC also faulted VA for managers who appear “to have chosen not to review allegations concerning dirty and potentially contaminated surgical instruments because they did not appear in OSC’s original referral letter.”

This Quick Read was submitted by Dan Hounsell — dan.hounsell@tradepressmedia.com — editor-in-chief of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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