Tag Archives: Diana Rubens

‘A Little Uncomfortable’ VA Official Grilled In House Hearing Over $300K Relocation Incentive

By Chuck Ross

A House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing was the scene of a tense exchange Wednesday as a top-ranking VA official was forced to answer questions about a $300,000 relocation package the agency gave her to take a job in Philadelphia last year.

Committee chairman Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, grilled Diana Rubens, the current director of the Philadelphia VA Regional Benefits Office, about whether such a large payment was needed to incentivize her to move the 140 miles from Washington D.C. to Philadelphia.

“I don’t know that, sir,” Rubens said when Miller asked her during the hearing if she would have taken the Philadelphia job without the package.

It was revealed on Tuesday that Rubens’ relocation stipend included a $211,750 payment to a contractor through the VA’s Appraised Value Offer (AVO) program. Rubens was also paid $84,000 in various relocation and moving expenses in order to incentivize her to move. That portion included $30,000 in closing costs on Rubens’ new home in Pennsylvania.

The large AVO portion stemmed from the sale of Rubens’ Alexandria, Va. house. The AVO program requires relocating employees to put their home on the market for at least 60 days. But if the house doesn’t sell during that span, a third-party contractor purchases the home from the VA employee at its appraised value. The VA then pays the contractor — in this case, Brookfield GRS — 28 percent of that amount.

Rubens put her house on the market in June. It went unsold, and Brookfield GRS purchased it for $770,000 in August. The company sold the house in February for $692,500. Despite the loss on the transaction of the actual property, the company made a gross profit of around $130,000 through the AVO program. (RELATED: Congressman Calls For End To Federal Housing ‘Scheme’ That Netted Official A $288K Bonus)

In a letter to Allison Hickey, the VA undersecretary for benefits, Miller questioned Rubens’ incentive and the value of the AVO program, especially given that the VA has claimed that its inability to provide adequate health care to veterans stems, in part, from a budget shortfall.

The question Miller sought an answer to Wednesday was whether Rubens wanted to move to the Philadelphia area to be closer to her mother, sister, and other family members, who live in Wilmington, Del.

If that were the case, it would undermine the VA’s claims about the purpose of the AVO program. The agency claims that it is intended to be used to compensate skilled employees who are reluctant to move to take a new job.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Ruben — who had worked as the undersecretary for field operations in Washington D.C. — revealed that she signed a written statement asserting that she would not move to Philadelphia for the director job unless she received a relocation package.

“The re-lo package that the VA has is offered in some instances, and because it was offered to me and I thought it beneficial to help me ease that transition from one office in one city to another in an effort to be there as quickly as possible,” Rubens told Miller.

Rubens said that she has asked about relocating to Philadelphia in the past because she wanted to work in a “large and complex” office in order to advance her career. The Philadelphia office is one of the largest in the VA system. It is also mired in scandal. A recent VA inspector general report found widespread mismanagement, data manipulation, and retaliation against whistleblowers there.

“So you did not want to move unless you got a $300,000-plus relocation package to be close to your mother and your family?” Miller asked.

“No sir, that’s not the issue,” Rubens said.

“It was part of a benefit program that VA offers to ensure transition as quick and as smooth as possible to an office that needed leadership,” she added.

“So you would not have moved close to your mother, had you not gotten this package?” Miller pressed.

“I don’t know that, sir,” Rubens admitted.

“I guarantee you, I would move close to my mom without a $300,000 relocation package,” Miller said, preceding several seconds of uncomfortable silence.

Miller circled back to requests Rubens has made in the past about taking a job in Philadelphia. Rubens said she had discussed the possibility years ago with a previous boss.

Asked by Miller if she would have moved to Philadelphia then without the $300,000 relocation payment, Rubens demurred.

“I can’t answer that, sir. I don’t know I would or wouldn’t have done many years ago,” she said. Asked how long ago that conversation took place, Rubens said it was between three and five years ago.

Miller stumped Rubens towards the end of his line of questioning. She said that she chose the option of entering the AVO program in order to ensure she could made the move to Philadelphia “as expeditiously as possible.”

“So, you couldn’t have moved quickly without $300,000 relocation package?” Miller asked. Rubens appeared caught off guard and stayed silent for several seconds. Miller jumped in and yielded the floor to Florida U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, the ranking Democrat on the VA committee.

Brown was clearly bothered by the previous exchange, telling Miller, “Mr. Chairman, I just want you to know I’m a little uncomfortable with this line of questioning.”

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VA Inspector General To Investigate Philly Director’s $288K ‘Relocation Payment’

By Chuck Ross

The inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs has opened an investigation into why the director of the Philadelphia regional benefits office was given a $288,000 “relocation payment” to move from Washington, D.C. last year.

Diana Rubens was awarded that hefty sum to make the 140-mile move from her previous job in Washington, D.C. where she served as the agency’s deputy undersecretary for field operations. She oversaw 57 regional benefits offices in that position.

Florida U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, sent a letter to VA inspector general Richard Griffin on March 10 asking for an investigation into Rubens’ payout and to the agency’s policies regarding such payments. Miller also alleged in the letter that Rubens is being paid a senior executive service-level salary despite her current position being “two levels below her Central Office pay grade.”

Miller wrote in a separate letter to VA Sec. Robert McDonald that the “outrageous” payments are especially troubling given the agency’s scandals revolving around its inability to provide care to sick veterans.

Griffin responded on Friday.

“The OIG is reviewing the documentation regarding the propriety of expenses associated with Ms. Rubens’ move from VA Central Office to the Philadelphia VARO. When that review is complete, we will provide you the results,” Griffin wrote in a letter obtained by The Daily Caller.

Griffin’s office will also conduct “a risk assessment of the controls and activities related to permanent change of station relocations Department-wide that occurred in fiscal year 2014.” (RELATED: VA Official Was Paid $288K In ‘Relocation Payments’ To Move 140 Miles)

While federal agencies routinely help employees cover the cost of house-hunting, moving, terminated leases and temporary housing, Rubens’ payment was $274,000 more than what the VA typically pays out.

Records show that in fiscal year 2009, the 755 relocation awards it paid averaged $12,485. In 2010, 762 relocation awards averaged $11,951 each. And in 2011, 789 awards averaged $13,047.

Housing costs don’t seem to have been the issue. Property records from Alexandria, Va. show that Rubens sold her home last July to Stone Financing for $770,000. Stone Financing sold it at an apparent loss last month for $692,500. Rubens bought a house in Havertown, Pa. in September for $589,000.

Rubens was paid more than $181,000 in base salary last year. She has also received other controversial payments in the past. She was given $97,000 in bonuses between 2007 and 2011 even though claims processing times doubled to 325 days on her watch.

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VA Hospital Director Paid $288K In ‘Relocation Payments’ To Move 140 Miles

By Chuck Ross

The director of the Philadelphia regional VA hospital was paid $288,000 in “relocation payments” to move the 140 miles from Washington D.C. to her new home last year.

Diana Rubens was tapped last June to take over the Philadelphia hospital, which is one of many currently being investigated over claims that it placed veterans on unauthorized wait-lists.

Rubens, who previously served as the D.C.-based deputy undersecretary for field operations, where she oversaw 57 regional hospitals and four area offices, was brought in to help fix the embattled Philadelphia facility.

A breakdown of Rubens’ “relocation payments” was not immediately available, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, but a VA spokesman said that there was nothing inappropriate with the spending.

Federal regulations allow for the reimbursement of relocation expenses including the “costs of house-hunting, moving, terminating leases, and a per-diem rate for meals and temporary housing for an employee and his or her family,” the spokesman said.

But that hefty repayment is nearly 160 percent of what Rubens earned in base pay all of last year, raising questions over what exactly that money could have gone towards.

Rubens was paid more than $181,000 in 2014, according to the website FedSmith.com, which maintains a database of federal employee compensation.

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of doling out hundreds of thousands in cash to extremely well-compensated executives just to move less than three hours down the road,” Florida U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, told the Inquirer.

“For VA to pay such an outrageous amount in relocation expenses at a time when the department is continually telling Congress and taxpayers it needs more money raises questions about VA’s commitment to fiscal responsibility, transparency and true reform.”

Rubens has been mentioned before in articles criticizing other money she’s been paid by the VA. According to the Center for Investigative Reporting, in 2011, she received a bonus of more than $23,000 even though patient backlogs — one area Rubens was in charge of managing — increased by 300,000.

The Washington Examiner reported last year that Rubens received more than $97,000 in bonuses between 2007 and 2011 even though the average time to process veterans’ claims doubled to 325 days on her watch. The ratio of backlogged cases nearly doubled as well, from 37 percent in 2009 to 71 percent in 2013.

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Update: VA Inspector General To Investigate Philly Director’s $288K ‘Relocation Payment’