Opening Statement of Honorable Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Member
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important legislative hearing this morning. The three measures before us look at planning, funding and oversight. Individually, each measure is beneficial.
But when looked at together, they provide an analytic and transparent framework for VA, Congress and other stakeholders. They ensure requested resources are sufficient to meet the current and future needs of veterans. They also ensure that these resources achieve the best outcomes for veterans.
I want to thank the Chairman for bringing forward his bill, H.R. 813. H.R. 813 would extend the advance appropriations mechanism to the VA’s remaining discretionary accounts. Advance appropriations can provide fiscal stability during uncertain times.
Advance appropriations also provides VA, Congress, and other stakeholders with a view of longer-term resource requirements. I believe that in order to extend advance appropriations for the remaining VA discretionary accounts, we must have strong confidence that the underlying budget projections are appropriate within a longer-term context.
That context must include a forward-looking strategy with goals and objectives, and a five-year program with expected outcomes, milestones and resources.
There must be greater visibility for Congress into the assumptions, definitions, and details than that provided by top-line appropriation accounts. This information will assure us that all VA’s missions are identified, planned, and executed.
This will also give us insight into any trade-offs VA may make between resources and outcomes, and enable us to better oversee whether the VA is meeting its stated goals with executed resources.
Before we budget and appropriate dollars, we must plan and program. This, in a nutshell, is my bill, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2013.”
Let me explain what this bill does, what it does not do, and why I believe this is one of the most important bills we will consider as a Committee.
Let me use an example we can all relate to. When we look to purchase a house we consider many factors. We consider the purchase price, we look at all the items that go into determining what our overall cost will be, from taxes to utilities to maintenance, and so on.
We gather as much information as we can to assess whether this investment will be a good one in the years ahead. We look at the quality of the local schools, the prevalence of crime, and the long-term trends in our economy that might have an impact on what our house is worth in the future.
I believe the VA should go through a similar process with regard to its capabilities to carry out its mission.
My bill would codify a VA planning, programming, budgeting and evaluation, or PPBE, system. PPBE is a “best-practice” currently used by leading corporations and important segments of our federal government.
For planning, it looks at the strategic level by means of a Quadrennial Veterans Review (QVR) that periodically assesses the changing environment. The QVR ensures VA is positioned to meet the evolving needs of veterans.
For programming, it aligns resources and efforts with the strategic direction by means of a five-year program. This lays out the path, in outcomes and resources, to get there. The five-year program looks beyond a single year’s budget, and next year’s forecast, and forces the VA to accurately and fully account for the taxpayer dollars provided to it.
It would provide Congress a vital tool we can use to be assured of the effectiveness of VA in meeting its responsibilities.
The bill designates a Chief Strategy Officer to ensure that the planning and programming phases of the process receive equal consideration with the budget and execution phases.
All these stages must be in place to create a mechanism that will better ensure that the VA budget provides the resources tailored to the missions of the Department and that the need for these resources is fully defensible.
This bill does not graft Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security policies onto the VA. This bill uses these agencies as models but is crafted to meet the unique needs of veterans and the VA. DOD is significantly larger than VA, has a different mission, and has over 50 years of experience operating under a PPBE system.
There is no expectation that the VA can, or should, match what the DOD does today. It is the principles of long-range planning and programming that VA should adopt, not the 8,500 DOD Program Elements or their resource intensive approach.
My bill recognizes VA’s current efforts, and is intended to support these efforts while making sure Congress has access to the information we need to do our job. For the last few years, VA has experienced a period of budget growth and has been led by a Secretary who supports analytic and transparent budget development. But we cannot expect these conditions to be permanent.
We should use the opportunity we have today to build a lasting framework to enable VA to meet its mission today, and tomorrow. Fiscal constraints may come, and leadership will transition. We must prepare now for VA to meet these challenges. Codifying a VA PPBE system in statute ensures its continuance in good times, and bad.
I am committed to moving forward with this bill. I stand ready to work with my colleagues on this Committee, and in this Congress, to see that the very best bill we can produce is enacted. I stand ready to work with veterans’ groups and others as we move forward.
I recognize that a PPBE mechanism is a change in the way VA has done financial management.
Change is hard. Not everyone will be comfortable with this change. But change is necessary if we are to position the VA to meet its responsibilities, and fulfill its mission, in the coming years. Change is necessary if we are to perform our responsibilities as Congress. My bill, and the bills before us today, acknowledge that the status quo is no longer acceptable. This acknowledgement requires that we take action.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your help and support in with my bill, and in having the Committee look at the broader picture of VA budgeting and planning.
I look forward to working with you, the Members of the Committee, and our veterans, to make sure that VA’s financial management process is not the result of budgeting-by-crisis.
VA needs a financial system that is equal to the task of running the second-largest federal agency. This system must also be capable of meeting the needs of veterans - not only today, but into the future.
I yield back the remainder of my time.