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Hon. Cliff Stearns, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for holding this hearing today to discuss recent issues that have been developing within the VA.  Today we will specifically be examining the process in which bonuses are awarded to VA officials and how the VA ensures that bonuses are awarded in an impartial process, and to award bonuses taking the department's overall success into account. 

In 2006, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs awarded over $3.8 million in bonuses to its employees.  Coincidentally, this is right after Congress had to jump in and obtain emergency funding to cover a $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

AP reports have shown that "21 out of 32 officials who were members of the VA performances review boards received more than half a million dollars in payments themselves." Additionally, the largest increase in spending for VA health in the past 77 years was introduced by congress only recently.  I want to ensure and reiterate that the priority for VA funds is to serve our country's veterans.  Only after their needs have been met, and all departmental obligations fulfilled, should the VA bureaucrats receive rewards.

However, I feel we must also be fair about this process.  I do not believe we are questioning whether or not the VA should award bonuses, but rather the manner in which it does so.  Actually, in a May 15th Washington Post article, Secretary Nicholson made an interesting argument that, “bonuses help keep experienced officials and make their compensation more competitive with the private sector. Over the long run, keeping the most talented employees helps improve efficiency and maintains quality services.”  This is an accurate point, however, these bonuses must not be at the expense of veterans’ services, or at the cost of taxpayers with million dollar budget bailouts.   

The VA's method for granting bonuses should be examined to determine whether there is any opportunity for improvement of the VA's SES bonus system.  Our goal here always is to ensure that the VA funds are being properly distributed to the servicemen and veterans who deserve it.  I look forward to hearing more from our witnesses today.