Wednesday, June 09, 2010

They used to love him






"In the first half of fiscal year 2010," stated Chair Bob Filner at today's House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing, "from October 2009 to March 2010, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] issued 120 reports, identified nearly $673 million in monetary benefits and conducted work that resulted in 232 administrative sanctions." Is there compliance?

To get everyone on the same page, US House Rep Cliff Sternes referenced the amended 1978 Act for the Office of Inspector General and quoted The head of a federal agency shall make management decisions on all findings and recommendations set forth in an audit report of the Inspector General of the agency within a maximum of six months after the issuance of this report and should complete final action on each management decision within 12 months after the date of the Inspector General's report." You must take action within six months and you must have completed it within one year. Sternes noted that over 11 requests remain open and over a year old.

The Committee heard from two panels. The first was the Deputy Inspector General from the VA's Office of Inspector General Richard J. Griffin. The second panel was VA's Under Secretary for Health Robert A. Petzel. In his opening statement, Griffin provided the basics on OIG's role:

Once a final report is issue, OIG follow-up staff in the Office of Management and Administration begin tracking the recommendation until they are fully implemented. For each report, we separately list recommendations and related monetary impact we expect VA to derive from implementation. In each status request we seek a description of what actions have occurred toward implementing the recommendations during the preceding 90 days. We set a 30-day deadline for VA officials to respond in writing. The response must contain documentary evidence such as issued policies, certifications, or other material supporting any request to close recommendations.

That is the statement as delivered, not as typed ahead of the hearing (there are slight differences between the written statement and the way he read it to the Committee -- and, yes, he read the thing). He explained the finanical aspect of some of this (and here I'm using the written statement):

As of March 31, 2010, we had two reports with open recommendations that represented over $81 million in monetary impact. One report from September 2007, Audit of the Acquisition and Management of Selected Surgical Device Implants, with over $21 million in monetary impact, involved an open recommendation to improve the acquisition and management of selected surgical device implants (stents, aortic valves, and thoracic grafts). The other report from September 2008, Audit of Veterans Health Administration Noncompetitive Clinical Sharing Agreements, with over $59 million in monetary impact, has multiple unimplemented recommendations related to noncompetitive clinical sharing agreements.

We'll note this exchange which provides an overview:

US House Rep Michael Michaud: A couple of quick questions -- and I want to thank the panel for coming -- my first is, why do you have a centralized follow up staff rather than having the auditors or investigators who did the origianl report do the follow up? Wouldn't it make more sense to have those that did the original report do the follow up?

Richard Griffin: It-it -- In reality, it's a collaborative effort. The follow up staff that-that uh really are the traffic cops for the receiving of the report from VA with-with the policies they've implemented or the procedures they've put in place or the training programs that they've created -- those things don't require the absolute 100% attention of the audit staff or the health care personnel who did the job. Certainly there's collaboration if there's question as to whether or not a recommendation should be closed based on the feedback that we've been given. we will consult with the expert who did the job and make sure that everyone's in agreement that it can and should be closed.

US House Rep Michael Michaud: Thank you. My second question, actually it's a follow-up to Congressman Stearns' interest in exactly how is -- does the VA stack up to other departments you look at completing the recommendations?

Richard Griffin: Well from time to time, the Counsel of Inspector Generals on Integrity and Efficiency submit a report that goes to the Congress and goes to the White House and it -- and it lists a number of different performance measures involving the IGs' activities and, as indicated in our testimony, we feel like the 94% rate that has been demonstrated in the last 12 months by VA puts it on the high end of performance compared to some of the other departments.

Later in the hearing, US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick would pursue a similar line of questioning to Michaud's including his opening question. When she suggested that inventories needed to be on a more timely basis and that certain staff needed to be included in the reviewing process to determine whether recommendations were being met or not, she was told by Griffin it was "a matter of resources."

With a one year limit for requests to be completed and closed, you may join US House Rep Jeff Miller in expressing confusion.

US House Rep Jeff Miller: I was looking in your testimony, you talk about the 2005 report recommendations to implement more effective project management oversight. Uhm -- We're talking about five years that this oversight did not take place and corrective action should have been done, you say, five years earlier in your -- in your comments. My question is what type of system of accountability can [be] put in place to prevent a five year lag of implementing recommendations?

Richard Griffin: Is that the major construction report you're referring to? [Miller nods.] Seven of the ten recommendations in that report address the need for a quality assurance program in order to make sure that we had proper oversight and proper program management for major construction. A quality assurance group was established and this group was supposed to have addressed those things. When we went back and looked at it a second time, which we will do from time-to-time just to validate, we found that, yes, the group was created but it wasn't properly staffed, it didn't have adequate policies and procedures in place so it was -- it really wasn't a functional program oversight activity. The other two recommendations simply were not addressed during that time period.

Chair Bob Filner: [To Miller] You're yielding back when he didn't answer the question. You said: What can you do to make sure they don't go for five years without doing something? He said, 'Yes, indeed, they went five years without doing something.' So how do we make sure that there's that oversight? If I may follow up on your question, Mr. Miller.

Richard Griffin: I think there are a number of things we do. We spotlight anything that hasn't been accomplished in one year and it goes in our semi-annual report so that the Committee can be aware when we've got a report. I believe very strongly that hearings like this one are very helpful based on the flood of documentation that we've received in the last 72 hours addressing various items that needed closure. So again, I do thank you for the hearing. We do meet --

Chair Bob Filner: We should schedule one every week.

Richard Griffin: We will be here. We do meet on a monthly basis with VA and certainly those issues that are the most difficult and are the most dated are the subject of those discussions also.

As the first panel drew to a close, Chair Bob Filner asked Griffin to identify one problem area and Griffin went with procurement which "represents a huge dollar area for the department, acquistions" for drugs and contracting and stated there was too little oversight of contracts and "the people who write the policy are back in Washington and where the rubber meets the road are out in the field."

Turning to peace news. Last March, Peace Mom Cindy Sheehan was arrested for peacefully protesting. Today she was suppose to go before the judge. That did not happen. Cindy explains:

All together with the judge, defendants, prosecutor, and defense lawyer, we picked the date of June 10th. We didn't just pull that rabbit out of a hat -- EVERYONE agreed on that date. We arranged a legal team; and I raised money for my travel expenses and legal fees for the Peace of the Action defendants (three of us). As of Monday of this week, our lawyer had been in touch with the judge and everything was hunky-dory and the trial was on.
I had an early flight out of Sacramento this morning and on my way to the airport at 6am, I got a message from one of our lawyers that the trial was going to be continued because a judge couldn't be found due to some "judge'' conference." So, from Monday to Wednesday, a Judge Convention (golf games?) arose which necessitated the postponement of our trial? I would like to believe that's true, but with all of the other harassment and outright lies put together, I logically doubt the integrity of the court system. Not to mention, the officer at the Park Police station who practically admitted that I was being singled out for harassment when he said, "If you would stop protesting this stuff would stop happening to you."
Not only all of the above, but I am calling for more protests in DC from July 4th to July 17th and I have a "stay away order" from the perimeter of the White House which includes the sidewalk in Lafayette Park that borders Pennsylvania Avenue. The order is in place until our trial -- whenever that is going to be. This stay away order will seriously hamper and limit my right to free speech.

We'll close with this is from Tim King's "The Bigot on Comedy Central: Jon Stewart and the Crucifixion of Helen Thomas" (Salem-News):There is a reason Jon Stewart has such an intact comedy news throne. He's well educated, always current, a sharp wit; he's funny, and he's the right religion. In my mind's eye, Stewart's face keeps blurring with Ted Nugent's, and those of other heroes who have eventually shown their real colors. The reason is simple: these are the pop culture sellouts."Never Forget" stands for the rights of Palestiniansand all the world's oppressed peopleI could care less what religion he or anyone else is, until it starts getting in the way of the human race, which it did in last night's program where he rips into veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas.No, I did not include the clip, that's on the Daily Show site, though I did include some video to illustrate why blind support of Israel's systematic elimination of the Palestinian people is a goal that only brings great reprisal and retaliation.It takes comedy down a dreary road in my opinion, when people like Stewart speak in terms so ignorantly offensive to Palestinians, journalists, and all people with half a brain in on-air jobs, who have some control over their final script. But all comedy aside, Stewart is heartless for attacking nine generations of American journalism and history, a person who knew Presidents when Stewart was still a baby playing in his poop.Helen Thomas, the only real voice in her league with the guts and fortitude to tell the truth about what Israel has become; a cruel gatekeeper for a whole population that owned the land Israel now comprises, only 60 years ago.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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