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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Editorial: The VA’s bonus program should end

Performance bonuses may have a place in some corporate environments where employees who boost revenues or cut expenses and waste are deserving of a financial reward.

By every account, the Department of Veterans Affairs is not one of those places. The VA’s amorphous bonus program has rewarded top managers presiding over poor-performing VA offices that might have falsified records to curry the very bonuses that are meant to inspire good performance.

The outrageous ­reports of mismanagement and the continued awarding of bonuses should convince lawmakers and the head of the VA to end the bonus program. It doesn’t work.

As the Tribune’s Howard Altman reports, the top employees aren’t lacking for compensation. Nearly 700 employees at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital in Tampa, and nearly 500 employees at the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center in Seminole, are paid more than $100,000 annually. On top of that, about 40 percent of them received bonuses totaling close to $1 million.

It remains to be seen whether the Haley and Young centers will be tainted by allegations of falsified records. But the number of bonuses at those centers fits into a pattern repeated across the nation. In 2013, nearly 80 percent of the VA’s top management nationally were judged in performance reviews to be performing at an “outstanding” level or “fully successful” at their jobs. More than 65 percent of them were awarded bonuses averaging $9,000. This was occurring as wait times for deserving veterans to receive medical care were spiking across the nation.

The Government Accountability Office found last fall that the performance bonus program gives the VA centers and networks the discretion to set the goals for achieving a bonus, “but does not specify an overarching purpose the goals are to support.”

In other words, bonuses can be given for just about anything.

U.S. Rep. David Jolly, a Republican from Indian Shores, is co-sponsoring legislation to freeze $800 million in senior VA staff bonuses. He thinks the money should be spent expanding the care for veterans. We can’t think of a good reason to keep that from happening.

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