VA And DoD Blow $1 Billion With No Strategic Plan

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130302 WW VA And DOD Blow

“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.

130302 WW Fred Willard

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.

130302 WW Roger BakerVA’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.”

 

Sources:

VA CIO Roger Baker Resigning

http://www.healthcareinfosecurity.com/va-cio-roger-baker-resigning-a-5516

 

House Committee on Veterans Affairs

http://veterans.house.gov/iEHR

 

 

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namnibor
namnibor

Brilliant compilation of what’s been and is going on, Ben! This quote:

[ 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.”]

The aformentioned quote says an awful LOT in it’s minced words of defiance. What I am trying to emphasize here is the DoD is now personifying the very sequestration that has been looming like a hatchet since what, 2011? It makes absolutely NO SENSE to even declare that looming budgetary cuts are what forced them to EVER consider cost-savings AND efficiency in the FIRST place!!
I for one think this sequestration is nothing more than a huge ruse! Where’s exactly the Congressional Budgetary Office (CBO) oversight on squandered ONE BILLION or 25% of allocated taxpayer funding for this project?
With the DoD and VA being the most intertwined bedfelloes in our bloated gov’t., for them to BOTH come to the “U-Turn catch-phrase”, it seems ALL they are doing is DIVERTING *supposed* sequestration cuts to refull/replace their minor budgetary wound with VA allocated resources with absolutely no oversight or accountability.
I even dare to say that a priority decision seems to have been made that DoD Contractors (war profiteers) have more of a vested concern that the Veteran’s whom have survived the ravages of their wars!
Brave statement?
NOT ONCE did our President or any Congressional Talking Heads in the scare-mongering verbal tactics to American Public about looming sequestration EVER mention this would AFFECT VETERAN’s WAITING for their Disability Claim Benefits…not once!!!
Would it be considered sardonic but mainly true that perhaps all of this is indeed a RUSE to kick the can down the road because they are defiantly just not really even interested in getting a handle on the very backlog of claims?!!?
I say this because it’s really unheard of for Congress (supposedly We The People) to be told a few weeks prior they were well ahead and on track then to say not ONLY is it a failure, BUT ALSO at same time the G.I. Bill IT streamlining IS ALSO a failure! Then to have the CIO of Veteran Affairs to “magically resign”…no, I think we have to DEMAND that the CBO gets to bottom of this but my last comment is a question: Whom is the entity responsible for oversight ON the oversight? Yeah, which way did he go, which way did he go…? (The likes of Rep. Paul Ryan is involved with the Congressional Budgetary Office but apparently he too was a ruse in the gov’t tightening it’s belt?)

namnibor
namnibor

Sorry, but I just have to state perhaps the obvious in form of a question: Does anyone else think that ONE BILLION could have awarded an incredible number of Veterans their deserved benefits? Yes, this pissed me off! If I were a monkey I would toss $hit at their already blind eyes!
Ben, I really appreciate your using passage of scripture in Corinthians in your write-up. We are thus far still a “Nation Under Gog”, the last time I looked at my change and bills.
Ben, can YOU trace whom actually keeps the CBO in-line? I can only find committees that of course are filled with the very Congressional ilk that turn a blind eye? Thanks!

namnibor
namnibor

Sorry, I *DID* intend to correctly spell “GOD” rather than my spelling of “Gog”…perhaps it was a Freudian Slip in that “Government Of Gloatoids”. I will rightly declare that “Citizen’s United” Supreme Court Ruling has handed over more control and influence of Corporations making money off these pointless wars to our members of Congress–BOTH parties! Does anyone else realize we still have HUGE amounts of contractors in Iraq? Why do you think Haliberton built it’s World HQ in one of the Arab Republic countries that has the largest natural gas resource in the WORLD? My rant is over and will now pet my cat and literally take some prescribed chill pills!

EMC
EMC

Thanks for the article, and providing a great voice. I am a veteran, and have worked for both the DoD and VA as a civilian. From the VA side, I can tell you they do not have the chain of command to address strategic issues that resembles the DoD in any way. On the DoD side, a similar attempt was made to merge all personnel records from cradle to grave, and that collapsed under its own weight. Lessons from that experience should have been used to better set a game plan for this process.

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