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Opening Statement of Honorable Michael H.Michaud, Ranking Minority Member

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Secretary Shinseki, thank you for coming today.
I look forward to your testimony on the funding needs of the VA.

Welcome also to the VSO representatives on our second panel.  
This Committee relies on the veterans’ community to provide additional insight into the needs of the VA.  You help us understand the pressing issues facing veterans and their families.  
I especially appreciate the Independent Budget you prepare each year.

Mr. Secretary, I applaud the Administration for providing a concrete example of the priority that our nation gives to veterans.  
In a time of austerity, a $2.5 billion increase over FY 2013 levels represents the nation’s ongoing commitment to those who have served and sacrificed.  

The key question today is:  Does this budget give you the resources you need to complete your transformational efforts?  
The Independent Budget has recommended nearly
$2 billion more than your FY 2014 request.   
Many of your transformational initiatives will come to fruition in the next year and a half.  This includes your goal of eliminating the VA claims backlog by 2015.  
So again, does this budget give you the resources you need to complete your transformational efforts – specifically, to achieve eliminating the backlog in 2015?
If the answer is yes, I will work closely with my colleagues on this Committee, and in this Congress, to get you the resources you need.  

To whom much is given much will be required.  
In a time of forced budget cuts and scarce federal resources, you have proposed an increase.  
With these funds, in these times, comes an increased responsibility to show tangible return-on-investment.  
It is imperative, that over the next year, we have open dialogue about the accomplishments and achievements this funding allows you.
There must be robust discussion of the progress you are making toward finalizing VA’s transformation.  We need hard data and information if we are to share your confidence of success.
Since the advent of advanced appropriations, you have consistently asked for additional funding beyond what was requested and provided.  
This year, you are asking for an additional $157.5 million in medical services funding.
To me, this indicates the need for better, more detailed planning and programming.
The process of putting a budget together and making informed policy and program decisions is a fundamental management tool.
As we begin the discussion of providing advance appropriations for all of VA’s discretionary accounts, we need to also discuss whether VA has the management processes and infrastructure in place to make strategic decisions that can inform budget estimates far into the future.  
I believe we would all like to see a planning, programming and budgeting process that is driven by the long-term, strategic needs of the VA.  
It should be one that assists VA leadership, at the very highest levels, to make tough and smart decisions to improve how we provide benefits and services to veterans, and to evaluate the success or failure of efforts over the long run.

You have requested a large increase for Information Technology.  
I understand the critical nature of IT spending.  
This is especially important within the context of your transformational efforts.  
But I want to be assured that we are wisely spending our IT resources.
For example, as part of your proposed increase you have requested $251 million to “fund the required development activities within the iEHR Interagency Program Office (IPO).”
In light of the recent decision by DOD and VA regarding the integrated electronic health record, is this funding still required?  Would these resources be better spent to support your claims backlog initiative?
I would like to mention an Administration proposal I oppose.
The Administration’s budget includes a proposal to utilize what is called a “chained-CPI” in place of the current method of calculating inflation.
The Administration believes that this will result in a $44 million dollar in savings over 5 years and $230 million over ten years.
I line up with our veterans’ groups and our seniors in opposing this proposal.
I am not convinced that it is a sounder manner in which to calculate inflation.  
I believe it would have a real and damaging effect on many of our most vulnerable citizens – including veterans and their families.
This nation is committed to its veterans.
This budget reflects that commitment.
I stand with you, as part of this nation’s government, committed to delivering on that commitment.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I yield back the balance of my time.