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Opening Statement of Hon. John Boozman, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Arkansas

Good afternoon.  First, let me concur with the Chair’s dissatisfaction with VA’s prepared testimony.  I believe the invitation letter was sufficiently detailed regarding our expectations for today’s hearing.  While I recognize VA may be constrained regarding competition sensitive information, describing the Department’s desires expressed in the Statement of Objectives provided to industry is well within their authority.  I expect the Department to provide the Subcommittee with a very detailed briefing on those objectives and the winning bidder’s plan to meet them very shortly after contract award.

It is both ironic and fitting that we are holding a hearing on the Post 9/11 GI Bill exactly seven years after that cowardly attack on America, an event that contributed to today’s global conflict.

The war on terror has highlighted the need to create a new GI Bill that reflects the increased obligations of today’s service members and their families.

In addition to caring for our dead and wounded, there is no more important benefit to offer a path to personal growth through a generous education benefit.

As you may remember, the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, under Chairwoman Herseth Sandlin’s leadership, reported a GI Bill that I believe was superior in nearly every way to what eventually became law.  Our bill, HR 5684, was simpler to administrate, was more flexible and offered $19,000 per year for full time enrollment.  Our bill was eventually passed by the full committee but failed to make it to the floor.  So we are here today to hear VA describe how they intend to implement the very complex program in chapter 33.

Frankly, I am very concerned that despite VA’s best efforts, they will not meet the August 1, 2009 deadline.  We are aware that VA intends to contract out a significant portion of the effort to bring the program on line, but they now have less than 11 months to get the work done.  I hope we have not given them an insurmountable task.

I am also aware there is some opposition to VA’s intent to contract out development of the new IT system and possibly some personnel issues.  I would remind those who oppose using modern information technology to manage the system that it is the mot promising way to shorten the processing time.  While a small number of cases may require manual intervention because of their complexity, the vast majority should lend themselves to automated processing.  I am confident that if we asked veterans whether they would prefer the current method that now takes about 20 days or an automated process that could provide an answer in minutes, they will choose the latter.  I believe there is an example of this at the Department of Education and I will ask VA whether they have looked at that model.

As to whether the IT should be developed in house or via a contract, those who point to the failure of COREFLS should also remember that VETSNET is primarily an in-house project that has been in development since the late 1980s and has experienced numerous failures and has cost the government over $600 million.  From reading VA’s testimony, there is ample opportunity for VA employees to remain employed in the education service or elsewhere within VBA.  My point is that we have given VA a complex new program to manage and until their selected approach to implementing that program fails, we should not interfere.  This should be about meeting the needs of veterans seeking an education, and no other agenda.

Madam Chair, this subcommittee worked hard for four years in a bipartisan way to do the right thing by those who have born the battle.  If VA believes they need any additional legislation, I hope they will provide that to us in time for us to act.  I look forward to hearing from the Department today and I hope their testimony will not only describe the major features of the proposed contract, but also provide a frank and candid assessment of the challenges they face.

I yield back.