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Opening Statement of Hon. Ginny Brown-Waite, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for yielding.  It is important to bring these concerns about procurement forward for discussion.  Our nation’s veterans are a valuable asset, and caring for them should be our first priority.  Procurement is an area in which we can provide services and care to our veterans, but it is also an area where, if not done properly and within the letter of the law, can be subject to abuse and impropriety.

According to VA’s own Office of Acquisitions’ web page, last updated October 14, 2006, VA states that its annual expenditures are more than 5.1 billion dollars for supplies and services, including construction.  VA is one of the largest procurement and supply agencies in the Federal government.  Drugs, medical supplies and equipment, IT equipment and services, and other critical patient care items must be procured and distributed to VA’s health care facilities to what is the largest health care delivery system in this country.  Supply support is also provided to regional offices, national cemeteries, automation centers, and other various VA activities.

Yet today, VA testifies that the 5.1 billion dollars is now over 10 billion! ... Almost doubled since last October.  VA’s procurement practices are so decentralized with very little oversight, I wonder if VA really knows how much is being procured and how efficiently resources are spent?

I also believe that an unknown amount… maybe a lot… is listed under that benign category of “miscellaneous obligations”.  I hope we see some clarity to these issues in today’s hearing.

I understand we will hear from the VA’s IG about the egregious procurement improprieties that occurred at the Boston VA Healthcare System.  VA can have policies and procedures stacked to the ceiling, but if there are no controls in place to ensure compliance or non compliance, what good are these policies?  With reports dated as far back as April 1997, it appears the Inspector General and VA have recognized the existence of the systematic procurement problems, yet little has been done to address them.

Yes, reports have been generated and recommendations have been made countless times over the years, but when we see the same recommendations over and over again, one must wonder why no serious actions have been taken to correct the problems and punish the perpetrators.  I have strong concerns that VA has failed to act on what they know is a problem.  These reports speak of professionalizing the VA, optimizing and monitoring the procurement process, and making the contracting process fair and accessible, yet cases like those found in the Boston VA Healthcare System provide a glaring example of a perpetual lack of accountability.

We owe it to our veterans to address the mismanagement in VA procurement once and for all.  While we know that there are good VA employees working within the current procurement system, we need assurance that VA is working to fix a broken system.  As of today, 19 of the 21 VISNs have taken steps to protect and update their procurement processes.  The other 2 VISNs must take steps to protect the financial resources they are responsible for maintaining. 

With backlogged patients not getting the resources they need and VA executives asking for more and more money, we need to make sure the funds are being used where they need to go, not into the hands of procurement employees who spend more than allotted and use illegal and illegitimate procurement methods.

The first step of all recovery programs is to admit there is a problem, so I hope that the facts brought out in today’s hearing, coupled with the incidences at Boston which are indicative of a long history of very dysfunctional, decentralized acquisition and procurement programs with very little oversight, will be a spring board for change within the VA.