The VA Mess

Our old buddy Dave in Texas went on a bit of a twitter rant yesterday.

 

And I can’t say I blame him.  The VA has always struggled to provide quality care for veterans. But the fact is, as Instapundit Glenn Reynolds notes, our modern civil service system, born out of disgust with the old spoils system, has simply transformed itself into a one-party spoils system.

The sprawling federal bureaucracy increasingly has come to see itself as beyond any oversight, not from the Congress, and to an extent, not from the White House.

Congressional staffers investigating allegations of wrongdoing at a Philadelphia VA office found themselves under surveillance and recording.

Congressional staffers investigating data falsification and whistleblower retaliation at the Department of Veterans Affairs regional office in Philadelphia were given a workspace there that was wired with activated audio microphones and video cameras, the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs said Monday.

Committee investigators also glimpsed a notebook used by the agency’s regional director that bore written instructions to ignore their requests for information, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said during a late-night hearing.

And if you think this issue of the bureaucracy serving its own interests first and foremost is limited to the VA, you’re naïve.

It is inevitable that any organization, even those explicitly founded to provide service to others, will eventually become one that serves itself, even at the expense of its constituency.

What starts as as cause becomes a business and devolves into a racket.

Who should replace Shinseki at the VA, and the need for other reforms.

I’d love to see retired Marine General Jim Mattis take charge of the VA. I think a good part of Shinseki’s failure was that he set metrics, but failed to supervise to ensure that they were really being met. I suspect Mattis wouldn’t fall quite so easily for such a snow job from underlings.

But I’m not adamant that the head of the VA needs to be a retired general or flag officer. I’m not even sure that’s the best pool to choose from. As others have noted, one guy with great talent at turning around failing organizations is… Mitt Romney. I’d greatly prefer the head of the VA be a veteran, and more importantly, I’d really like to see someone with experience in medical administration. But I’m surely open to your suggestions.

But simply finding the “right guy” to lead the VA is simply not enough. As Jillian Kay Melchior shows us, there are literally hundreds of people at the VA, paid by the taxpayer, to perform union work full time, or part time.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs paid at least $11.4 million to 174 nurses, mental-health specialists, therapists, and other health-care professionals who, instead of caring for veterans, worked full-time doing union business.

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In total, the VA spent at least $13.77 million on 251 salaried employees performing full-time union work. Others, who were not included on the list provided by the VA, work part-time for unions at the taxpayer expense. In fiscal year 2011, the latest on record, the VA used 998,483 hours of this “official time,” costing taxpayers more than $42 million.

The concept of unionized federal workers is repugnant enough. That those same unions are then supported at the expense of taxpayers is vile. And that civil servants, hired for their skills and qualifications as health care providers, then spend their time on union business is simply revolting.

And it isn’t simply the union employees that are problematic. Even had Eric Shinseki known his subordinates throughout the VA were systematically cooking the books, or otherwise failing to put forth their best effort to provide the very services they were hired to provide, he couldn’t have fired them, except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

Not just in the VA, but throughout the entire government, the civil service is in desperate need of overhaul.  The elimination of the spoils system to the civil service system of today has produced a fourth branch of government, a self serving bureaucracy that, while generally aligned with the Democratic party of big government, seeks above all else to further its own interests.

It used to be that one worked for the government with the understanding that pay would be lower, in exchange for greater job security. This has metastasized to the point that the government employee’s pay is typically a third greater than the private sector, and virtually no crime short of murder will lead to dismissal.

We’ve certainly strayed from Lincoln’s ideal of government of, by, and for the people. And unless and until we address that, whoever replaces Shinseki at the VA will be faced with an impossible task.