“Which way did he go, which way did he go?” That’s how I felt watching the Congressional Hearing earlier this week.
I think everyone is a little clueless about what is going on, and I’d like to get to the bottom of it with your help. This is the Weekend Warrior segment. It’s for all you veterans out there who are too busy during the week to tune in and research what’s going on with our government.
In this segment, I provide you with an overview of the issue and it’s your job to dig in and find that answers. Email me with what you find out or what you think should be done – benkrause (at) disabledveterans.org.
Here’s what we cover in this post: lots of highlight clips from Congress; specific quotes from the hearing; and basic summaries of what happened and how they burned up $1 billion between the VA and DoD with no strategic plan.
House Committee on Veterans Affairs Hearing
eHealth Record U-Turn: Are VA And DoD Headed In The Wrong Direction?
I didn’t make that hearing name up. VA and DoD must know that when Congress calls the hearing something like that, that the witnesses are probably in trouble. This hearing was true to form, but it lacked the grit I think we need from Congress with the exception of Rep. Jeff Denham.
This hearing last week was about the strategic integration of the IT systems for Dept of Defense and the Dept of Veterans Affairs. No one seems to know which way either of these agencies will go with the $4 billion in taxpayer dollars allocated to their new IT medical records platform.
Earlier this month, these two largest agencies of the US government announced that they were taking “U-Turn” after telling Congress just 6 months earlier that the plan was ahead of schedule.
“One thing I think we need to have as joint in place is strategic planning…” explained Ms. Melvin from the US Government Accountability Office. The should also, she said, “follow a defined plan going forward.”
Here is the overall summary of what the DoD said they need to do after spending $1 billion already:
- Reduce risk
- Get data
- Make goals
This means the DoD and VA have spent years trying to resolve the above information deficits and spent $1 billion with no solution yet.
The whole hearing can really be summed up by the following question from Congressman Phil Roe:
Rep. Phil Roe
“How much will it cost to create the system [we need]?”
Elizabeth McGrath, DoD
“I don’t know the cost.”
… WTF?! We have spent $1 billion of the $4 billion allocated for the new IT integration for DoD and VA without “strategic planning.” I am amazed. While most of us can and are expected as adults to balance a checkbook and make wise decisions, the Dept of Defense and Dept of Veterans Affairs have decided to tell us to fuck off with our tax dollars. Our leaders are clearly infants when it comes to acting like adults.
For most Americans, we tend to be responsible with the things we are given. We act like adults when the time comes to do so. We shed our childish ways. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things.” (1 Corinthians 13:11). I would like the DoD and VA to do the same.
To think, we live in a time when we can use remote controls to make moths fly but we cannot create a system like TurboTax for our military and veterans health records? It is ridiculous.
I’m sorry, but the gloves are off, and I’m not convinced that only these agencies are to blame.
According to Congressman Miller, “The agency that guards its turf the most is the DoD. They don’t want to give up any ground.” From the entire testimony, it looks like the DoD may have torpedoed the joint system due to sequestration concerns. I’m glad you identified the issue Mr. Miller, but what are you going to do about it?
Last week was not the first time this month these agencies have been hit with questions about where they spent our billions. For me, this past month marked for me one of the most shocking discussions I’ve heard about mis-spending.
VA’s Roger Baker was lucky enough to announce his legacy to Congress during two hearings this past month. On February 13, 2013, Roger Baker informed Congress that it spent $263 million on a new GI Bill platform that does not work right. On February 27, 2013, he also announced that the multi billion dollar IT solution for medical records is also dead in the water.
Mr. Baker quickly announced plans to resign two days after his initial GI Bill announcement. “I don’t have any settled plans for after I’m out of government. I know I’ll take some time off.” Maybe if you’re on vacation in the Bahamas you’ll see him on a sailboat with whomever netted the money that was supposed to pay for these systems.
I’m sure it’s not just the VA, but it is more likely the general inability of our bloated government to do what’s right for the country. Never have I seen such unchecked incompetence. During the hearings, Congress prodded the VA and DOD a bit, but the questioning is frankly unconvincing with a few exceptions.
Reps. Jeff Miller, Phil Roe and Jeff Denham (all Republicans) did press on the VA and DOD rather well. I was disappointed that the Democrats were not more assertive on these issues given sequestration.
Here’s the pattern of these hearings as I’ve noticed: 1) VA screws something up that costs millions or billions of taxpayer dollars. 2) Congress asks them “why.” 3) VA does not answer the question directly. 4) The hearing adjourns.
I think it’s time we audit Congress to see if they have been following up on these VA hearings. It’s time to take off the kiddy gloves and figure out what these PUBLIC SERVANTS have really been doing with our tax dollars. Supposedly VA has been answering the thousands of questions Congress has been throwing at them. But the real solution to this problem of runaround and dishonest answers is not being talked about.
Congress has the ability to swear in those who testify for hearings. For whatever damn reason, Congress formed a gentlemen’s agreement with the VA to not do that. What we end up with, as a result, are hearings where the VA and DOD get away with lying. And Congress gets away with not doing its job.
Like I said, it’s time we as veterans rise up and demand answers. Since there is a record of most everything, I think we need to start auditing Congress.
Badass Congressman of the Week Award
This week, the winner was Congressman Jeff Denham.
“You need to get it right, or we’re going to force you to get it right,” threatened Congressman Denham. “You’ve been given a directive by the president, by your agency secretaries to get this done. My belief is that you don’t have the will to get this done.” He continued, “Damnit, it’s time to get over the excused to get this fixed.” I thought these were pretty good sound bytes.
Here is Congressman Jeff Denham’s biography.
I hope we scare up some action, and by we I mean Congress and us – we are not going to just stand idly by while Congress acts like a toothless tiger.
Good Quotes From The Hearing
Congressman Jeff Miller
Mr. Baker, Why did you not tell staff about the change?
“So I am to believe than in a week’s time, the secretaries of the two largest agencies in the federal government came to consensus on an entire change of direction? I find that really hard to believe.”
“We should have been focused on how much this was going to cost back at the very beginning, not just at the end, either.”
“An Xbox and a playstation can play the same video game on the same TV screen but they don’t talk together, and that’s the concern I have about the direction we’re headed.”
Dr Jonathan Woodson DoD
“Sequestration forced us to consider how much this was going to cost. Yes, if you’re looking down the barrel of significant budget cuts, you are going to focus on how can we make them more efficient and how can you achieve the same end at reduced cost and reduced risk.”
House Committee on Veterans Affairs