Metro-East News

Roger That: Federal prosecutors decide against charging VA officials with crimes in connection with hiring scam

Mike Fitzgerald
Mike Fitzgerald

Federal prosecutors have decided not to press criminal charges against two former executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs who were accused of manipulating the agency's hiring system for their own gain, Military.com is reporting.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said Thursday it has declined a referral from the VA inspector general for criminal prosecution of Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves.

The inspector general said in a report this fall that Rubens and Graves forced lower-ranking regional managers to accept job transfers against their will. Rubens and Graves then stepped into the vacant positions themselves, keeping their pay while reducing their responsibilities.

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The first of 17 detainees scheduled to be released from the Guantanamo Bay prison in January will be transferred next week, as the Obama administration continues to reduce the population at the controversial detention center, a senior U.S. official said Monday, according to Yahoo News.

Another three detainees are slated to appear before a review board during January to determine if they can also be considered eligible for transfer to another country, the official added.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter notified Congress earlier this month that 17 detainees would be transferred to other countries in January. Those transfers will begin with several moving out next week. In the 10 months since Carter took office in February, he has transferred 15 detainees out of Guantanamo.

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Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting that since Obama took office in 2009, Pentagon officials have been throwing up bureaucratic obstacles to thwart the president’s plan to close Guantanamo.

Negotiating prisoner releases with the Pentagon was like “punching a pillow,” said James Dobbins, the State Department special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2013 to 2014. Defense Department officials “would come to a meeting, they would not make a counter-argument,” he said. “And then nothing would happen.”

Pentagon delays, he said, resulted in four Afghan detainees spending an additional four years in Guantanamo after being approved for transfer. In other cases, the transfers of six prisoners to Uruguay, five to Kazakhstan, one to Mauritania and one to Britain were delayed for months or years by Pentagon resistance or inaction, officials said.

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The headline in today’s L.A. Times pretty much says it all: “How the U.S. Missile Defense Agency burned $231 million on a program that never should have left the drawing board.”

The story is about how Defense Department leaders once touted the Precision Tracking Space System as an “unprecedented capability” to protect America and its allies against a nuclear attack by the likes of North Korea and Iran.

The planned network of nine to 12 satellites, orbiting high above the equator, would detect missile launches and track warheads in flight with great precision, the proponents said. It would tell apart real missiles from decoys — an elusive capability known as “discrimination.” It would help guide U.S. rocket-interceptors to destroy incoming warheads. And it would do all this at a fraction of the cost of alternative approaches.

Based on those promises, the Obama administration and Congress poured $231 million into design and engineering work on PTSS starting in 2009.

Alas, by 2013, the Pentagon quietly spiked the program after outside experts determined that the entire concept was hopelessly flawed and the claims made by its advocates were erroneous. It was the latest in a string of expensive failures for the missile agency.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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