The standing Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in the U.S. House of Representatives has angrily promised aggressive oversight on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), accusing the agency leaders of overspending on travels and conferences.
During a heated hearing, Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller said that VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould’s vague responses to the questions of the committee had “raised the heckles on the back of my neck.”
“The truce is over. It lasted less than 24 hours. Expect much more oversight from this committee,” Miller added. “Expect more questions from this committee because they’re coming — in great volumes.”
The primary purpose of the two-hour long hearing was to find out what measures the VA has planned to take to avoid excessive spending lapse in the future. The agency spent an estimated $9 million on two Orlando gatherings last year, investing $84,000 for the promotion of agency’s branded items such as pens, highlighters and hand sanitizers.
Aggressive measures that are to follow from now onwards require all VA conference planning include a detailed business case analysis and any gathering costing $20,000 to $100,000 must receive approval from the agency’s secretary or assistant secretary. Conferences whose cost is to range from $100,000 to $500,000 must receive approval by the deputy secretary and those costing above $500,000 should not take place at all.
VA’s lack of response and its disoriented answers have raised bigger questions regarding its spending issues as well as some ethical errors a few of the agency’s employees were caught making.
“This is an issue of competence, the failure to either know the answers or refuse to answer them,” said Rep Tim Huelskamp, R- Kan. “It’s about a gentleman in Syracuse, Kan., who had to drive 522 miles to the nearest VA hospital. In that time, you could fly folks to Orlando for a great conference. And you won’t even tell the American people who attended? Either you’re trying to hide something or its total incompetence.”
As the hearing began to wrap up, Gould accused the House panel of criticizing the VA staff, but instead prompted an explosion from Miller. “No, no, no, no,” Miller said, his voice rising. “Don’t you ever accuse a Democrat or a Republican on this committee of slapping any of the hardworking 300,000 VA employees. Rest assured, it’s the leadership that we’re concerned with.”