Bay Pines official blasted for inappropriate relationship with supervisor

A U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official who works at Bay Pines VA Medical Center racked up thousands of dollars in unnecessary travel expenses and used her personal relationship with her boss to relocate to Florida, a report says.

Katherine Adair Martinez, deputy assistant secretary for information protection and risk management in the department's Office of Information and Technology, was blasted in a 29-page inspector general's report released last week.

The report says that Martinez and her supervisor, former Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Robert Howard, began an "inappropriate personal relationship" in April 2007.

In early 2008, Martinez asked Howard if she could relocate from Washington to a home she owned near St. Petersburg. She said the move was for family reasons.

Howard, who left the VA in January, agreed to let her work remotely in Florida.

He told investigators he had already planned to put senior leaders in field facilities, and that Martinez would be keeping track of what was happening with other technology employees at Bay Pines.

Martinez began working at Bay Pines in July 2008. In the first nine months, Martinez flew to the nation's capital 22 times, according to the report.

The cost to the VA? More than $37,000.

In fact, investigators found that Martinez spent more than 70 percent of her workdays away from Bay Pines and almost 60 percent of them in Washington.

Martinez, who could not be reached for comment Saturday, told investigators the trips were for business reasons.

She said she had to go back and forth for meetings and to sign documents she feared might get lost in the mail.

She said her relationship with Howard, which ended in February or March, had nothing to do with it.

Investigators didn't believe their explanations. They noted that Martinez's office at Bay Pines was in a remote location, and she seldom had contact with other technology employees.

"Furthermore, her justifications for frequently traveling to D.C., at a substantial cost to VA, were to accomplish tasks that she could easily do from Florida," the report said.

The report recommended VA officials "take appropriate administrative action against Ms. Martinez for misusing her position for personal gain."

It also said the department should reconsider its decision to relocate Martinez to Bay Pines.

VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts told the Associated Press the agency was concerned about the findings and would pursue a thorough review.

"VA does not condone misconduct by its employees and will take the appropriate correction action for those who violate VA policy," Roberts said in an e-mail to the AP.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727) 893-8643 or kstanley@sptimes.com.

Bay Pines official blasted for inappropriate relationship with supervisor 08/22/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 11:42pm]

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