VA seeks 'narrow' exemption for ethics law
WASHINGTON (AP) The Department of Veterans Affairs said Tuesday it would proceed with a narrow waiver to a federal ethics law banning employees from receiving benefits from for-profit colleges after dropping plans for a broader exemption.
Under the new approach, VA employees who take classes or receive payments for teaching at for-profit colleges will typically be considered to have no real conflicts of interest and not be subject to dismissal, as required by the 50-year-old ethics law. Government watchdogs had worried that completely suspending the law would create financial entanglements with private companies vying for millions in GI Bill tuition administered by the VA.
"There will be no blanket waiver, just a consistent approach to considering and granting individual waivers for those employees who are eligible for them," said VA spokesman Curt Cashour.
The VA had originally sought to suspend the law, publishing a proposal in the Federal Register in September that was set to take effect this week for all 330,000 VA employees. The VA cited the lack of any "significant adverse comment," but abruptly backed off the plan last week after The Associated Press asked about rising opposition.
In particular, veterans groups and ethics experts said the VA's original proposal was rushed, betrayed the will of Congress and gave for-profit colleges an opening to improperly reward VA employees who steer veterans to the schools.
On Tuesday, the VA said it had no plans to publish a new proposal and would direct department leaders to issue more narrow waivers. The VA has estimated that thousands of employees who took classes or taught at for-profit colleges could be exempted.
Some veterans groups and ethics experts said they still had questions, pointing to requirements in the law for the VA to hold public hearings when issuing waivers.