The problems at the VA are not mismanagement flukes that can be cleaned up with a few strokes of a housekeeping broom.
These are problems so deeply engrained in the bureaucratic culture that even a new agency secretary, exhaustive congressional oversight, and an angry public outcry have failed to correct the runaway mismanagement.
Despite Secretary Robert McDonald’s claims that 900, make that 60, employees were fired because of their negligence that led to the deaths of numerous veterans last year, that number of fired employees is actually zero, according to Concerned Veterans of America.
That $10 billion Veterans Choice program Congress created last year to alleviate the backlog of doctor appointments? Stars and Stripes reports that’s not working well either:
But after a hurried rollout that has led to confusion as to exactly who is eligible and what they need to do to coordinate treatment, officials now say only 37,648 medical appointments have been made through April 11.
That figure represents only a tiny fraction of eligible patients. The Choice plan is supposed to be open to patients who live more than 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic or who have been told they would have to wait more than 30 days for VA care. As of April 1, there were almost 432,000 appointments pending in the VA’s scheduling system involving a wait that long.
However, it is the ongoing dispute to complete construction of the Aurora hospital — now over budget by nearly one billion dollars — that shows the absolute commitment of agency bureaucrats to themselves, over the veterans they are tasked to protect.
Rather than pay for the outrageous cost overruns out of their own pockets by forfeiting bonuses, like the $64,000 received by Glenn Haggstrom, the now retired official who ran up $2 billion in cost overruns at four VA hospital projects including Aurora, they want veterans to feel the pain, again.
The VA wants the Aurora financing to come out of emergency funds that were appropriated by Congress to help clean up last year’s scandals, money specifically authorized to hire more medical staff and for “minor” construction projects. That leaves taxpayers on the hook, again, to refill that $5 billion account, if the $1 billion is extracted to pay for Aurora.
We expect to hear Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson whine and complain at today’s 1:30 p.m. Senate Committee hearing at the Aurora City Council Chambers that these outrageous bonuses are crucial to the operation of the government agency.
Whereas hiring doctors and nurses to take care of veterans, well, that can wait.
The House Appropriations Committee this week passed the VA funding bill for fiscal year 2016, and it contains some pretty harsh language for the Obama administration, while signaling that Congress is willing to put a temporary hold on the Aurora construction if the VA can’t get its act together:
The Committee is seriously disturbed by recent findings of gross facility construction mismanagement with the VA Aurora, Colorado hospital project, in particular, the cost overruns that are now estimated at $930,000,000. The Committee expects a detailed explanation from the administration within 30 days from the filing of this appropriations report about: (1) whether there is justification to continue the project, as opposed to re-scoping the project, renovating the existing hospital, or pausing to recompete the project; (2) how the administration proposes to finance further costs for the hospital in a deficit-neutral way; (3) what personnel actions have been taken against those responsible for the project’s mismanagement; and (4) what program oversight and management controls have been installed for current and future VA construction projects.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s bill to use the hundreds of millions of bonus money for the next few years to complete construction is still at play, and looking to be a good alternative considering appropriators this week also voted to slash the bonus fund by $100 million for fiscal year 2016.
When the VA bill heads to the House floor for a full vote, expect to see Coffman’s meausre offered as an amendment.