By Debbie Gregory.
Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, has called into question a pattern of “wanton and abusive spending practices” by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Reminiscent of the government waste that resulted in $640 toilet seats, Miller went to the House floor with poster displays of a rock sculpture and other art installations that account for $6.34 million in recent renovation expenses at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System.
The massive rock, called “Aggregate,” cost $483,000. In an attempt to convey “a sense of transformation, rebuilding, and self-investigation,” the stone was cut into 50 shifting and static blocks with a laser and then pieced back together.
“Aggregate” is just one example given by Miller, who said the agency’s spending habits continue to be a problem.
“These projects include an art installation on the side of a parking garage that displays quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt in, wait for it … in Morse code that cost $285,000. It actually lights up,” Miller said.
The bill to raise the VA spending limit on another project, the massively over-budget Denver hospital, which is $625 million in the red, passed easily. Support is more than likely due to the fact that the legislation also authorizes continued spending on other critical VA programs that few lawmakers want to see expire.
The bill also puts the Army Corps of Engineers at the helm of any VA construction projects (estimated at more than $100 million) as a way to avoid the years of mismanagement and shifting plans that plagued the Denver hospital.
Miller, who has put himself in watchdog mode, cited the $33.4 million spent so far this year on conferences for staff. He also referenced a VA leadership conference in Leesburg, VA, some 40 miles from Washington DC, that cost the department $1 million.
The VA has admitted that mistakes were made in the development of the Denver medical center, but insist that the state-of-the-art facility will serve Colorado Veterans well.