Skip to Content

Press Releases

Chairman Bost Leads Oversight Hearing on Biden Administration’s Costly VA Bonus Blunder

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mike Bost (R-Ill.), delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the Committee’s oversight hearing to discuss why the Biden administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) top brass, Dr. Shereef Elnahal and Mr. Joshua Jacobs, made the decision to pay almost every one of their VA senior executives a $50,000 - $60,000 critical skill incentive bonus payment last year, bonuses which were intended for high-demand healthcare and benefits support staff around the country who are vital to VA’s operations following implementation of the PACT Act: 


Good morning.


The Committee will come to order.


Today, I am looking forward to examining why V.A. thought it was appropriate to give almost every senior executive in V.A.’s health and benefits administrations huge bonuses simply because they were senior executives.


But before we get started, I’d like to address the subpoena resolution I was planning on calling up for this Committee’s consideration.


The resolution would have authorized the issuance of a subpoena to secure the appearance at depositions of V.A. employees directly responsible for ordering, conducting, or approving V.A.’s internal investigation into the alleged antisemitic conduct of Ms. Shekeba Morrad.


As you may remember, Ms. Morrad is an attorney in V.A.’s Office of General Counsel who V.A. investigated after she posted a social media video mocking those who were asking for the return of hostages captured by Hamas.


Although I was happy to learn V.A. was investigating the matter, I was concerned V.A. would conduct an inadequate investigation, like it has for numerous other serious employee issues.


I was specifically concerned V.A. would not examine how Ms. Morrad’s blatant antisemitism could influence her legal work, affecting veterans of Jewish faith.


I was also concerned V.A. would fail to determine whether Ms. Morrad’s conduct made V.A. employees of Jewish faith feel unwelcome at work.


Because of these concerns, I requested V.A. provide all documents associated with its investigation so I could see if V.A. was trying to sweep the issue under the rug. 


After over four months, numerous requests, and negotiations, V.A. finally agreed to provide the investigative documents in camera. 


Unfortunately, the documents’ contents affirmed my concerns.


Through the Committee’s in camera review, the Committee identified several troubling aspects of V.A.’s supposed investigation.


For example, V.A. only interviewed one person, Ms. Morrad, before determining there was no wrongdoing.


Even worse, the interview with Ms. Morrad was not documented in any way, which seems to violate V.A.’s own regulations for conducting investigations. 


Additionally, V.A.’s investigation did not examine whether Ms. Morrad’s work product or O.G.C. practice group were negatively affected by her actions and beliefs.


Further, when V.A. examined whether Ms. Morrad’s actions were antisemitic, V.A. used Wikipedia’s antisemitism definition.


Let me say that again, they used Wikipedia as part of the investigation.


Using a website anyone can edit as a source is hardly reliable and makes me question what other corners were cut.


Considering these shortfalls and more, the Committee has an obligation to perform oversight to see if any changes are needed to ensure V.A. only conducts adequate investigations – and prevents antisemitism in all its forms – moving forward.


As such, I requested transcribed interviews with the V.A. employees who directed or conducted the investigation and approved the investigation’s final report.


These interviews would help the Committee better understand the investigative process V.A. used and where there is room for improvement.


Although V.A. had previously refused to make the relevant employees available for interviews, V.A. finally agreed to interviews yesterday morning.


I am glad that after four months of negotiations, V.A. has decided to stop hindering Congresses investigation and will allow this Committee to conduct its oversight duties.


However, like I said back in April, if the Secretary decides to reverse course and tries to hinder my investigation, I will not hesitate to call up another subpoena.


Antisemitism has and continues to be on the rise around the country, and we have a sacred obligation to combat it no matter what.


For my part, as Chairman of this Committee, I will continue to do that on behalf of my fellow Jewish veterans and their families.


I hope that once our investigation concludes, we can ensure that this administration will do the same.


Now, turning to V.A.’s decision to give huge bonuses to senior executives.


Last year, I learned about V.A.’s decision to provide these bonuses to senior executives not because they were hard working, or because they were particularly good at serving veterans, but just because they were already V.A.’s highest-paid top brass, making on average more than $200,000 dollars each year.


Earlier this month, V.A.’s Office of Inspector General published a report that made clear this was no mistake, but a long-calculated plan.


The report shows that Secretary McDonough purposefully delegated his authority to award Critical Skill Incentive Bonuses to several of his trusted deputies.


All of which are political appointees.


After being delegated authority, his most senior leaders, including: Senate-Confirmed Undersecretaries Dr. Shereef Elnahal and Mr. Joshua Jacobs started to make plans to give every one of their senior executives a bonus.


Now, I appreciate that everyone loves to give hard workers an earned bonus, but 90% of V.A.’s employees weren’t given a penny.


Yet, Dr. Elnahal and Mr. Jacobs decided to give each of their senior executives an extra $50,000, and if they had the pleasure of serving as bureaucrats in V.A.’s D.C. Central Office, an extra $60,000.


There are V.A. nurses in my district in Southern Illinois whose whole salary is less than $60,000 a year.


Yet, the Biden Administration ignored these public servants, who work and serve veterans daily.


Instead, the Administration decided that pushing paper in D.C. was a critical skill to V.A.’s mission that was worthy of a maximum bonus.


Don’t be fooled, this money could have been spent on hardworking VA employees, outside the beltway, who might’ve used it to send their son or daughter to college, not to buy a new Porsche.


The OIG report makes clear that this wasn’t some flash in the pan decision.


Senior Executives at Central Office took six months of paper pushing to ensure they got these bonuses, with little to no justification.


Mr. Secretary, in September you called this decision a “policy error.”


I call this behavior criminal.


In fact, the Office of Inspector General agrees, referring nine V.A. senior leaders to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.


Unsurprisingly, Biden’s U.S. Attorney’s Office has so far refused to even investigate this self-dealing bonus.


Mr. Secretary, I specifically did not invite you to testify here today.


You basically invited yourself.


But the ball is now in your court.


I know that some of the bonuses have been clawed back, but as far as I see, the same leaders who allowed, planned, and made these poor decisions remain in power.


With V.A.’s current leadership in place, I’m sure many veterans are wondering whether your leadership team is focused on selfless service, or self-service.


I sure am.


Mr. Secretary, ultimately the responsibility for this failure falls on your shoulders.


And if leaders below you fail, and are not held accountable, you must be held to account.


Last week, my team met with a senior V.A. official who is a selfless servant.


He was shocked by V.A.’s decision to pay its senior executives first, expressing that in the miliary “leaders always eat last.”


He told us that this situation had seriously damaged V.A. employee morale.


V.A. employees feel betrayed and let down.


Senior executives feel jerked around and left out to dry.


Ultimately, the employee expressed frustration that they don’t see V.A.’s culture being fixed under its current leadership.


Mr. Secretary, I look forward to hearing from you today about how the Biden Administration plans to hold its leaders – and not just you – accountable for their actions.


We’ve done a lot of work to change the culture at V.A. and attract veterans who want to serve veterans.


I know them and you know them.


I would hate to see you throw that all away.


With that, I now recognize Ranking Member Takano for his opening comments.
Back to top