The embattled Department of Veterans Affairs is under new scrutiny after an internal document surfaced accusing the agency of spending $6 billion a year on contracts for medical treatment and supplies in direct violation of federal contracting rules.
In the document, obtained by The Washington Post, Jan R. Frye, the deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the VA, said that since the department isn’t following procurement rules, “Doors are swung wide open for fraud, waste and abuse. “I can state without reservation that VA has and continues to waste millions of dollars by paying excessive prices for goods and services due to breaches of Federal laws.”
The memo, which referred to a “culture of lawlessness and chaos,” was sent to VA Secretary Bob McDonald in March. It details specific ways the agency has violated federal procurement laws, including the excessive use of government charge cards to purchase billions of dollars worth of medical supplies—instead of using contracts. Federal charge cards are meant to make it easier for the government to make smaller purchases—on items under $3,000. But in one case, a VA employee charged up to $1.2 billion for prosthetics.
By not engaging in the competitive bidding process, the VA isn’t getting the highest-quality of treatment or supplies for the best price available, the memo said.
“These unlawful acts may potentially result in serious harm or death to America’s veterans,” Frye wrote. “Collectively, I believe they serve to decay the entire VA health-care system.
VA spokesperson Victoria Dillon told the Post that some care isn’t covered under the federal acquisition laws because the department outsources it to deal with increasing demand.
In response to revelations last year of hidden wait times and cover-ups at VA facilities across the country, Congress approved a $16 billion VA reform package that included new funding for more facilities and doctors. It also allowed vets to get treatment paid for by the VA through outside hospitals.
According to Dillon’s statement, authorizations for outside medical care jumped 46 percent in the first four months of the year.
Still, Frye’s memo suggests that the procurement issues predate last year’s scandal and subsequent reform bill.
And while the VA is getting slammed for its procurement practices, the department’s inspector general released a separate report raising issues over the VA’s conference spending.
The auditors said that last year the VA understated how much it spent on two human resources conferences in Orlando, Fla. The agency reported that it spent $5 million, but the IG said the actual cost was about $6.1 million. The report also said that VA employees planning the conferences improperly accepted gifts including room upgrades, meals, limousine services, golf, spa services, helicopter rides and tickets for the Rockettes.
The memo and IG reports come as the VA is desperately trying to repair its tarnished image. And though the department’s chief says it’s on the road to reform, the latest findings reveal it still has a long way to go.
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