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Opening Statement of The Honorable Michael Michaud, Ranking Minority Member for the Committee on Veteran Affairs

COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

STATEMENT OF MICHAEL H. MICHAUD,
RANKING MINORITY MEMBER

Trials in Transparency:  An Analysis of VA Cooperation
with Congress in Meeting Its Oversight Responsibilities on
Behalf of Congress

334 CHOB

September 19, 2013

 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

As the title of this unusual hearing makes clear, Members of this Committee are frustrated and unhappy with VA’s legislative affairs approach. That the Committee feels compelled to hold this hearing today should send a clear signal that the status quo is not acceptable. 

I am certainly aware that the VA receives a large number of Congressional inquiries, and I understand VA is challenged in responding to the over 535 Members of Congress. 

But high workload is not an excuse for the current situation which has gone on since 2009, and which simply must change.  If VA needs additional funding for more staff we need to know.  If VA needs to move around some of the 300,000 employees it currently has then it must do so. 

We all want to do the best we can for our veterans.  In order to do the best job we can, the Committee and the VA simply must have a relationship of trust and cooperation, where information flows quickly and easily between us.

It is my hope that this hearing will result in VA understanding our level of frustration with the current relationship and that we seek a real commitment from VA to improve and change.

I am hopeful that, working together, we can chart a new way forward.

For our part, the Committee must prioritize requests and accept some flexibility for achievable deadlines.  We must recognize that, from time to time, there may be legitimate disagreements between the Committee and VA about the appropriate degree or scope of disclosure of requested information. 

When such disagreements arise, it is incumbent upon VA to set forth its concerns in a timely manner, and for us to listen with an objective mind. 

To set a new course forward, the VA’s Office of Legislative Affairs needs to make a real commitment to customer service by adopting a “yes, we will” rather than a “no, because” attitude.  VA OCLA needs to provide regular and ongoing communications regarding the status of our requests.  There is nothing more frustrating than having to keep checking back with the VA on when we can expect answers, and the VA having no answers to give us.

Realistic deadlines that are met by the VA are essential.  I am willing to negotiate some due dates on less time-critical requests, but when VA agrees to a due date, I expect it to be met.

Finally, moving forward, I would like to see VA OCLA adopt the role of facilitator rather than filter. There is a perception across Congressional staff and, according to some reports, VA staff, that direct communication is “taboo” and everything must go through OCLA. 

I do not discount the value a broad Department-wide perspective can add to a conversation.  I understand, and agree, that formal Department-level positions should be coordinated by OCLA.  However, subject matter experts on both sides should feel free and comfortable to discuss general, basic issues. 

I stand ready, and I know my colleagues stand ready, to sit down with the VA and address our overdue requests and work together to come up with a real framework to govern our relationship going forward. 

This framework needs to be built around three goals:  customer service, timeliness, and access.

Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.