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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Chairman, Full Committee on Veterans' Affairs

Good morning everyone.  Welcome to this morning's hearing. 

Today we will review recommendations from several veterans service organizations for possible savings within the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

As everyone knows, we are in an unprecedented time of fiscal restraint in America, one that is long overdue. The Budget Control Act, now the law of the land, has put in place for the next decade caps on discretionary spending for every account in government, including VA. These caps will permit overall government spending to grow at roughly 2.5 percent annually. 

Needless to say, the next 10 years will look vastly different than the last 10 in terms of spending. Now, it is my belief that veterans' spending and defense spending remain the absolute top priority going forward. Maintaining the Nation's defense is a clear constitutional charge of the Congress—and I include the care of those who have fought for our country's freedom as an inextricable part of that charge.   

With that said, no agency should ever be exempt from a constant effort to become more efficient in its operations, or root out waste, fraud, and other questionable spending.

It is with this in mind that I solicited the help of the leading veterans' organizations to highlight areas of potential savings within VA, which could be redirected to provide better care and benefits to veterans. 

The VSO response was outstanding. They provided nine areas for the Committee to examine, and I am so pleased they are here today to discuss those and other areas of potential savings.  Some of what they recommended, such as VA's questionable payment of bonuses to already well-paid employees, were addressed in legislation reported from the Committee and passed by the house. 

Other recommendations require ongoing scrutiny, and today's hearing continues the Committee's oversight function to that end. I also want to thank the participation of VA at this hearing. 

I believe there are sincere efforts underway—and documented success in several areas already—which show that Secretary Shinseki is serious about VA’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars. 

Nevertheless, there are many areas that need improvement and continued oversight.  

The VA Office of Inspector General's testimony will confirm that this morning and I thank the VA OIG for its work with the Committee, VA, and veterans' advocates in our common purpose.   

Before I close, let me touch on one other issue that is on everyone's mind, one that Carl Blake raises in his opening statement for the Paralyzed Veterans of America.  Namely, the question of whether VA medical care is exempt from indiscriminate cuts that would occur across government accounts under a sequester order. 

Now, it's my firm hope and expectation that the Joint Select Committee will rise to its calling and produce a bill which saves a minimum of $1.2 trillion over the next decade that can clear the Congress and be signed by the President.  Should that not happen a week from tomorrow, however, veterans and their loved ones deserve to know, now, whether VA will be affected by a looming sequester. 

It's my belief that VA is absolutely exempt. But only the Office of Management and Budget is vested with the authority to determine the sequester rules.  To date, OMB has not been clear on this point. 

Mr. Grams, I hope you can shed some light on the Administration's position when you appear on our second panel.

Again, I thank all of our witnesses for their attendance this morning. 

I now turn to our ranking member for his opening statement.  Ms. Brown, you are recognized.