March 9, 2010

Veterans chief of staff makes more than cabinet secretary

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By Erich Wagner
Erich@MarylandReporter.com

The Senate budget committee chairman said he expects the panel to approve the continued payment of the $145,000 compensation package of the chief of staff for the secretary of Veterans Affairs, despite a staff recommendation to cut the new post that pays more than the salary of the secretary himself.

But a delegate vowed to challenge the payment as the budget moves through House Appropriations Committee.

Jerry Boden, former chief of staff to Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, became chief of staff for Secretary Edward Chow last year. When he moved, he brought a salary of about $118,000, plus fringe benefits. Chow makes about $101,000. It is the only new position added in the last two years to the 77-person department, which has had its budget cut by $400,000 this year.

CORRECTION ADDED: A previous version of this story did not reflect that part of Boden’s compensation was fringe benefits, nor did it include up-to-date information about Chow’s salary.

The Department of Legislative Service analysis recommended that the costly position be eliminated because there “is already sufficient staff in place to support the Secretary and the operations of the agency.”

Senate Budget and Taxation Chairman Ulysses Currie said this week he expects the committee to reject the Department of Legislative Services’ recommendation to eliminate the costly position.

Del. Gail Bates, R-Howard, raised the issue of the Veteran Affairs’ chief of staff’s compensation during House budget hearings. She said she was later visited by Chow and Brown, who each defended the position.

“I will push to have him taken out,” Bates said, “But I’m only one vote. I’m sure he’s a fine person, but it’s just a poor policy choice.”

The state Department of Veterans Affairs argued in its response to the budget analysis that the chief of staff is one of only six administrative personnel, and is heavily involved in the department’s behavioral health initiative and coordinates with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Boden is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and has an MBA from Georgetown University, with a background in health care administration. He was actively involved in the veterans initiatives led by Brown for the O’Malley administration. Last year he became Brown’s deputy chief of staff prior to moving to Veterans Affairs.

The department called the secretary’s chief of staff “one of these tools” needed to address the issues facing the agency, “and over the past five months he has become an invaluable asset and critical player in enabling MDVA to accomplish its goals and objectives.”

Bates also entertained the idea of cutting the chief of staff’s salary in half to be more in line with the rest of the Department of Veterans Affairs, instead of totally eliminating the position.

When asked whether what would effectively be a 50 percent pay cut would drive the employee to find employment elsewhere, Bates said, “Not my problem.”

“If he’s worth it, let him go elsewhere,” she said. “My concern is with the department.”

Veterans Affairs is a $19 million department set up to serve Maryland 465,000 former members of the armed services, and more than half its funding comes from the federal government. The majority of its 77 employees work in the cemetery division operating five burial sites, and its also operates the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home using an outside contractor. (See our Veterans Day story for a full rundown of what the department does.)

Analysts said the $400,000 in “cost containment” cuts to this year’s budget have forced the department “to reduce upkeep and maintenance of the veterans’ cemeteries” and to defer maintenance at Charlotte Hall. Like other state workers, the department’s employees have also experienced a net cut in pay because of furloughs.