On Wednesday, the House Veterans' Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, led by Chairman Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), conducted a hearing to address the Administration's proposed budgets for fiscal year 2009 for two unrelated offices at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): the Office of the Inspector General (IG) and the Office of Information and Technology (IT).
The IG is an independent entity and evaluates VA's programs and operations. The IG provides oversight that addresses mission-critical activities and programs in health care delivery, benefits processing, financial management, procurement practices and information management.
The President's budget requests $76 million for the IG for fiscal year 2009, an amount which is $4 million below the amount appropriated for fiscal year 2008 for the IG. The President's request would result in a 10 percent reduction in IG staffing. The VA is the second largest federal agency after the Department of Defense and has a budget of over $90 billion.
"The IG is essential to ensuring that the taxpayer's money is well spent and that the healthcare provided our veterans is world class," said Chairman Mitchell. "Slashing the IG's budget is absolutely irresponsible and comes at a time when America's veterans need our support more than ever. This budget proposal for the IG is completely unacceptable."
The federal government has statutorily-mandated IGs throughout its agencies. When the number of IG employees is compared with the number of employees in the agency, the IG at the VA has the lowest ratio in the government. The agency with the highest ratio has 35 times more IG employees per agency than the VA.
"The Office of the Inspector General actually pays for itself," said Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. "The IG saves money by cutting off benefits to those that are not eligible and provides valuable spending oversight at the VA. I am going to encourage Congress to increase the budget for the IG over the President's proposal. We have done it before and I suspect we will do it again this year."
The Subcommittee also reviewed the budget for the Office of Information and Technology. The President's budget requests $2.4 billion for IT, a 19 percent increase over fiscal year 2008 funding. Congress has mandated a separate budget line for the IT function so that the amounts and purposes of IT expenditures are visible and can be properly evaluated.
According to VA testimony, the goal for full implementation of a centralized IT system is 2008. The long-term goal is a more secure, efficient, and effective IT environment at all VA health care facilities, benefit regional offices, national cemeteries, and for all veterans the VA serves.
-Jon A. Wooditch, Deputy Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
-John D. Daigh, M.D., Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections
-James O'Neill, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations
-Belinda Finn, Assistant Inspector General for Auditing
-Valerie Melvin, Director, Information Technology, U.S. Government Accountability Office
-Barbara Oliver, Assistant Director, Information Technology
-Honorable Robert T. Howard, Assistant Secretary for Information & Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
-Stephen Warren, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Information & Technology (OI&T)
-Paul Tibbits, M.D., Deputy Chief Information Officer, Office of Enterprise Development, Office of Information & Technology (OI&T)
-Arnie Claudio, Director, Oversight and Compliance, Office of Information and Technology (OI&T)
Prepared testimony for the hearing and an audio recording of the hearing is available on the internet at this link: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?NewsID=195