Staff Provided 'Personal Travel Concierge Services' for Secretary and His Wife
The head of the Veterans Affairs Dept. improperly accepted tickets to an overseas sporting event, then used his office staff to schedule a 10-day trip around the event, invited his wife and co-workers, and a security detail. Half the trip was sightseeing. When it was over he had cost taxpayers over $120,000, according to an inspector general's report just released.
"Investigators determined Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets and airfare for his wife during a European trip last summer that ultimately cost taxpayers more than $122,000," USA Today reports.
The trip included Secretary Shulkin, his wife Merle Bari, a six-person security staff, and three other Veterans Affairs executives, "ostensibly to attend meetings in Denmark and a summit on veterans’ affairs in London."
But nearly half the 10-day trip last July was spent sightseeing, and Shulkin directed an aide beforehand to plan the leisure activities with his wife and the aide made “extensive use of official time” to make the arrangements, investigators found.
“This was time that should have been spent conducting official VA business and not providing personal travel concierge services to Secretary Shulkin and his wife,” Inspector General Michael Missal wrote.
The improper acts didn't stop there.
Secretary Shulkin's "chief of staff, Viveca Wright Simpson, made false representations to a VA ethics lawyer and altered an official email to secure approval for taxpayer funding of Shulkin’s wife’s flights, which cost more than $4,000."
And it appears Sec. Shulkin lied to ethics officials, telling them "the tennis tickets were provided by a personal friend, Victoria Gosling, an adviser for the Invictus Games, a sporting event for wounded warriors," USA Today's report adds. "But the inspector general concluded that was not the case, they had only met three times at official events, and when interviewed by investigators, Gosling couldn’t remember his wife’s name."
Several members of President Trump's cabinet are or have been under investigation for improper use of taxpayer resources. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, for example, ultimately lost his job after numerous private airline charters. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his wife have been targets of investigation – along with mockery – over their actions and excessive trips. EPA chief Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are also under investigation.
Then there's Trump's Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who has been accused of using HUD to funnel a no-bid $485,000 contract to his daughter-in-law and using his "listening events" to assist his son's business interests.
Image by Veterans Health via Flickr