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McDonald Will Apply West Point Honor Code, Prayer to His VA Leadership

By Bob Brewin // July 23, 2014

spirit of america/Shutterstock.com

Robert McDonald, former Procter & Gamble chairman, chief executive and president who graduated from West Point in 1975 and then served with the 82nd Airborne division for five years before joining P&G in 1980, yesterday told the Senate VA committee hearing that applying the West Point Honor Code and Prayer could go a long way toward resolving the falsehoods that have long plagued the department’s patient scheduling and disability systems.

The Honor Code simply states, “a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do,” a practice he would like to institute at VA, McDonald said in his oral testimony.

In his written testimony, McDonald said he is also guided by a key sentence in the West Point Cadet Prayer, which if applied to VA management could produce the cultural change the troubled department needs. It “encourages us to choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong.”

McDonald also emphasized: “My values are steeped in my experiences at West Point and in the military. Those values are what allowed me to be an effective leader at Procter & Gamble – and those values are what I will bring to the management of the VA.”

(Image via spirit ...

VA Still Mulling Timeline for New Scheduling System

By Bob Brewin // Government Executive // July 22, 2014

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson
Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson // Jose Luis Magana/AP File Photo

Last month, acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said development of a new scheduling system would help move veterans out of the waiting-list limbo that delayed vets’ medical care across the country and contributed to the resignation of Eric Shinseki as VA Secretary.

“Our top priority is getting veterans off wait lists and in to see their doctors … We need lasting, long-term reforms, including a complete overhaul to replace the outdated technology for our scheduling system,” Gibson said June 18.

More than a month has passed since Gibson called for that overhaul, and VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda told me today the VA information technology staff is still mulling how to proceed. “OIT (Office of Information and Technology) says VA is still determining what acquisition route to pursue and a potential date,” she said.

After a decision is made and VA acquires a new scheduling system to replace the Electronic Wait List system, which was first deployed in 2002, VA will roll it out incrementally across its health-care regions, according to presentations made to industry June 18.

Steve Green, a program manager in the VA OIT, told industry-day attendees VA will first field-test the new scheduling system in small, medium and ...

Bonusland: Nuke Waste Dump Contractor Awarded $1.9M after Fire

By Bob Brewin // July 21, 2014

Firefighters practice responding to a simulated incident involving a WIPP shipment during an exercise.
Firefighters practice responding to a simulated incident involving a WIPP shipment during an exercise. // Energy Department

Put this in the strange but true department: This February, the Energy Department awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership--which operates the country’s only underground nuclear waste dump--a $1.9 million performance bonus for excellent work five days after a mining truck caught fire in the facility, the Albuquerque Journal reported yesterday in a story by Lauren Villagran.

The Nuclear Waste Partnership is a joint venture of URS Corp., the B&W Technical Services Group division of Babcock & Wilcox and AREVA Federal Services, owned by the government of France.

The bonus was paid Feb. 14, just before a radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which stores 3.2 million cubic feet of plutonium-contaminated waste generated during the development and manufacturing of nuclear weapons by the Defense Department. The waste is stored in caverns carved out of salt 2,150 feet underground. WIPP has been closed since the fire and leak and may not accept any additional waste for storage for three years pending cleanup.

Following the yearlong safety and maintenance problems at WIPP, the bonus “looks to some like insult atop injury,” the Journal said, though the award was for work performed in 2013.

The Journal observed, since this year ...

So, Which Agency Needs an Executive Chef with a Top Secret Clearance?

By Bob Brewin // July 16, 2014

Kzenon/Shutterstock.com

Sodexo, the food services company, “is seeking a strong executive chef to manage all the culinary operations at a high-profile government dining account in Northern Virginia. The successful candidate must be able to obtain a TS/SCI clearance [emphasis included],” according to a job posting on the company’s website.

Steven Aftergood, who found and posted this gem on the Federation of American Scientists Secrecy News blog today, viewed a Top Secret chef with a Sensitive Compartmented Information kicker as a prime example of the Washington clearance process run amok.

Aftergood mused:

Though it may seem ridiculous, the requirement for a chef with a Top Secret clearance exemplifies a significant policy problem, namely the use of the security clearance process as an employee screening tool.

To all appearances, a chef does not need a security clearance. Although the successful applicant “must become familiar with Sodexo recipes,” those recipes are not national security secrets, and a clearance should not be needed to perform the job of executive chef.

Nevertheless, a clearance requirement has evidently been imposed because the “culinary operations” are to be conducted in a secure government facility that will place the chef in proximity to secrets, even if he ...

A Tip for VBA: Don’t Try to Spy on Congressional Staff

By Bob Brewin // July 15, 2014

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs // J. Scott Applewhite/AP File Photo

Staffers from the House veterans affairs' committee showed up at the Veterans Benefits Administration regional office in Philadelphia on July 2 in response to complaints from frontline employees.

The staffers met with Philadelphia managers in a fourth-floor conference room and then were told another room had been prepared for them on the third floor, complete with computers. 

Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., told a hearing held last night the third floor room also was wired for sound and video to surreptitiously record the staffers – who quickly figured it out and moved to a room used by the inspector general staff free from observation.

This sounds like a cheap spy thriller and would be comical if it was not tragic.