BLOOD IN THE WATER! Media Goes After VA Chief Over Travel Expenses

Veterans Affairs Secretary-designate Dr. David Shulkin, currently undersecretary for health at the VA, is sworn-in on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, prior to testifying at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Without a helluva lot more particulars here it is hard to determine what is real and what is not.

Via the Washington Post:

Nearly three days into a trip to Europe this past July, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and taken a cruise on the Thames.

The 10-day trip was not entirely a vacation. Shulkin was in Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues, so taxpayers picked up part of the tab.

Yet he and his wife spent about half their time sightseeing, including shopping and touring historic sites, according to an itinerary obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed by a U.S. official familiar with their activities.

The federal government paid for the flights for Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, and provided a per-diem reimbursement for their meals and other expenses, VA said Friday. An agency spokesman did not respond to questions about why Bari qualified for the reimbursements and taxpayer-funded airfare, other than to say she was traveling on “approved invitational orders” and had “temporary duty” travel expenses.

The agency also did not respond to questions about the cost of the flights and the total reimbursement. If Bari took the full per diem every day of the trip, she could have been reimbursed as much as $3,600 under federal guidelines.


There is nothing inherently wrong about scheduling leave with travel. In my competitive running days, I frequently took a day or two of leave in conjunction with duty travel to run races. The line, of course, was that the duty travel had to be necessary in the first place. If VA administrators had historically attended this conference and Shulkin took leave to go to Wimbledon it is completely legal.

Likewise, there are occasions when spouses are considered to be part of the official package. In those cases they are given invitational travel orders which allow them to be reimbursed. This kind of paying for travel expenses of non-employees happens everyday for meetings or government advisory panels, peer review boards, expert panels, etc. But Ms. Shulkin would have to have an official role at the conference.

Having said that, there is always the appearance of impropriety. For virtually any agency with a national presence, Las Vegas is going to be your most economical venue for a national training conference. Rooms, air fare are all cheaper in Vegas. However, sane conference organizers and managers don’t allow that because the appearance is just bad. No matter if what Shulkin did was legal, it looks bad. And as Mick Mulvaney said in his letter on the subject, “just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.”

Better brace yourself for an avalanche of these. Once Trump gave Price the heave-ho because of his travel fiasco, or so it seems, the blood was in the water.



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