I would like to thank everyone for attending the hearing today. Recently, I have become aware of potential issues which suggest that Federal funds may not be flowing to the local VA facilities in the most efficient and effective manner to best serve our veterans. This is a concern for me, since I have worked alongside my colleagues to provide for a robust VA medical care budget. In fact, appropriations for VA medical care have increased over 40 percent since I assumed leadership as the Chairman of this Committee.
The purpose of this hearing is to ensure that appropriated Federal dollars reach the local VA medical centers. This requires a good understanding of how the 21 VISNs distribute the appropriated Federal dollars to the local medical centers and how the VA tracks the dollars spent at the local level.
It also requires a good understanding of the budget planning process and how the VA central office involves the VISNs and the local medical centers to determine the resources needed to provide proper medical care to our veterans.
Some local VA medical centers claim that their allocations from the VISNs have either remained stagnant or have not been proportional to the unprecedented increase in overall funding for VA medical care. At this time, we are not able to examine these anecdotal concerns without a full understanding of the rationale that the VISNs use for allocating funds to the VA medical centers. Through today's hearing, my goal is to learn more about the decision-making process that the VISNs use for distributing the appropriated dollars to the local medical centers.
In the VA medical centers that serve the veterans in my district, I understand that there is a hiring freeze which may be linked to the growing queues that our veterans face for mental health care appointments. We have reports that the hiring freeze is not limited to mental health professionals and is VISN-wide.
Also, we have heard that this VISN-wide hiring freeze may have resulted from one particular medical center going over its budget in fiscal year 2009. This raises questions about how the VISNs track the funds that the local medical centers spend and whether VISNs are able to predict and prevent funding shortfalls at the local level before they occur.
Through this hearing, I plan to explore who decides how to prioritize, spend, and track the funding that the local medical centers receive from the VISNs. I would also like to uncover how the VA central office, VISNs, and local medical centers plan and execute budgets, and manage potential funding shortfalls.
Finally, in a September 2008 report, the Government Accountability Office found that VA policies and procedures were not designed to provide adequate controls over the authorization and use of miscellaneous obligations, which totaled about $7 billion in FY 2007. The flaws in the design of the internal control system increased the VA's risk for fraud, waste, and abuse. Through today's hearing, we will examine whether the VA has an internal budget control system that is strong enough to track, account for, and safeguard the flow of Federal dollars to the local VA medical centers.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses as we work together to provide the best health care to our veterans by ensuring that appropriated Federal dollars reach VA medical centers in the most sensible and effective manner.