Wednesday, December 9, 2015

I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

The Department of Veterans Affairs admitted Wednesday that its definition of the word "accountability" doesn't mean firing officials involved in the healthcare scandal, and instead said it sees the term as meaning that the VA will be "transparent about what our goals are."

But that admission drew a sharp rebuke from House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who said the VA's definition of the word "accountability" shows there's still no accountability whatsoever at the VA.

"It seems the term 'accountability' has taken on a new meaning," VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said in prepared testimony before the committee. "Instead of the dictionary definition — 'providing a record or explanation of one's conduct' — the term has become shorthand for firing people."

"Secretary McDonald and I want to reclaim the term 'accountability' in its fuller meaning, in the sense of being transparent about what our goals are and how well we achieve them, what taxpayers can expect us to achieve with each dollar we receive, what veterans can expect us to do for them, by when, and to what level of quality and satisfaction," he added.

And while Gibson did admit that "accountability" also means taking "appropriate actions" when things go wrong, he also said it means making sure VA workers are trained, and making sure the work environment is "free of fear."
Fear can be a very useful motivator. Some people might even avoid committing fraud for fear of getting caught and fired.
And, it means "rewarding people for exceptional performance."
There is very little evidence of exceptional performance at the VA. Certainly from no one in position in significant authority, or we wouldn't have had the VA scandal in the  first place
But the VA's definition of "accountability" didn't sit well with Miller, who tore up Gibson's definition in an extended statement.

"Quite honestly, I think the tone of your statement proves why we are so disappointed with the lack of accountability at VA because it illustrates that the department and its senior leaders still refuse to take responsibility for the corrosive culture plaguing VA," Miller said.

Miller also said he looked up the meaning of the word, and said the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."
There comes some point in the life of an institution, particularly government institutions where the business of the survival and expansion of an institution becomes more important than the nominal mission of the institution. I've seen that up close and personal.

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