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Chairman Rosendale Delivers Opening Remarks at Hearing on Biden Administration’s Budget Request for VA IT Office

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.), the Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, at the start of the subcommittee’s oversight hearing to assess the Biden Administration’s budget request for VA’s Office of Information and Technology:


Good afternoon. The Subcommittee will come to order.


Today we will examine the Biden Administration’s budget request for the VA Office of Information and Technology.


I want to thank our witnesses from OIT for joining us to help us understand this request.


It is by far the most unusual VA information technology budget that we have seen since this Subcommittee was created.


Factoring in all the funding sources—including the Toxic Exposure Fund, one-time dollars, transfers, reimbursements, and carryover—it constitutes a 3.3% cut, to $7.9 billion.


I have no doubt there is waste in the VA budget and there is at least 3% of unproductive bureaucracy and padded contracts that should be cut.


However, the Administration seems to be proposing the cuts in an incredibly lopsided, damaging way.


Development would take a 99% cut.


IT modernization, which is one of the top priorities of President Biden’s federal chief information officer, would take an 81% cut.


VA’s infrastructure readiness program, which we have heard is vital on many occasions, would take a 66% cut.


Technology for the Veterans Benefits Administration, which has had serious problems over the last year, would take a 41% cut.


Meanwhile, Staffing and Administrative expenses would increase by 5%.


And Operations and Maintenance takes about a $100 million, or 2%, cut in the base budget request, then gets boosted by more than $1.3 billion from the Toxic Exposure Fund.


It is hard to make sense of what would increase and what would be cut.


We may hear that the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which was a topline budget agreement between the president and the former speaker, forced these cuts.


But that explanation does not stand scrutiny.


That budget agreement and the current budget agreement specifically exempted veterans’ health care, which is about 80% of VA discretionary spending.


It is true that if the Administration decided to spend above the negotiated levels, they would need to make cuts in other areas of VA.


That may be what we are seeing happen now.


Congress has always met VA’s budget requests, but I don’t think any Congress should ever appropriate more money than an agency asks for.


Therefore—even though I do not have much confidence in this OIT budget—I need to understand in detail how it would be implemented.


We need to know whether the special salary rate is accomplishing its objective to recruit superior talent.


And we need to understand what kind of pressure it is putting on the payroll and OIT’s overall budget.


As we recently saw with the Critical Skills Incentive payments to the VBA and VHA executives, this sort of pay increase can get out of control.


The original purpose can be quickly forgotten, and it can be easy to hand out raises with other people’s money.


I am very concerned that an unsustainable payroll can actually undermine recruitment and retention, and drive away top talent.


Strong management will be very important to navigate OIT through the next few years.


Once again, I want to welcome our witnesses to discuss these important issues.


With that, I yield to Ranking Member Cherfilus-McCormick for her opening statement.
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