WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., plans to ask the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General to examine how the agency promotes and transfers regional managers after learning that the VA created a work-from-home advisory position for the former director of the embattled regional benefits office in Reno.
"We know that he did a terrible job. He was the fifth-worst in the country, and was put on leave for about a year with pay. Then they created a special job for him where he can telework from Reno to be an adviser to somebody here in Washington. It was a totally created job, it didn't exist before," Titus, a Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday.
The Reno office, which handles disability applications from Nevada and parts of California, has been criticized for poor performance under director Ed Russell. Russell was placed on administrative leave over the summer, and both Titus and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., sought his removal.
During a hearing Monday, Titus questioned Danny Pummill, acting undersecretary for benefits, about Russell's new position. He acknowledged that Russell is working from Reno as a senior adviser to the VA's Office of Field Operations in D.C.
"I do believe that the position was created for Mr. Russell … I believe it was part of a court settlement," he said.
Pummill said the VA is restricted in handling employees below the senior executive level.
"With our GS employees the rules, regulations and protections make it almost impossible to do anything," he said. "In Mr. Russell's case, I can assure you he is performing GS15 work and he is being held accountable on a daily bases. But, it was a very strange situation."
Titus said Tuesday that she still has a lot of questions.
"I think we should have some accountability for what exactly he is doing, why he deserves a special creation of an advisory position, and what he could be advising about when he did such a poor job himself," she said.
Titus said she plans to write the agency's inspector general, asking for an investigation this particular deal and the extent the VA has offered similar arrangements to others. She said she will ask other House members and the Nevada delegation to sign on.
Heller said Tuesday that he would support Titus's call for a broader review.
"It never hurts to look deeper at VA," he said.
Heller added that there is a broader problem within VA of shifting poor-performing employees to new jobs.
"Nowhere else do they operate like the VA," he said.