We have about 13,000 regional -- uh, benefits employees who are doing what they always do and that's process claims as quickly and as accurately as they can. With the end of mandatory overtime, we are doing that at 1400 claims each day less than we were doing, uh, before 30 September.
That's VA Secretary Eric Shinseki at today's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. Hopefully, we'll have time and space to review a great deal of it in today's snapshot. Does Shinskei mean "mandatory overtime." I'm not sure. He's spoken of overtime in many hearings but he tossed in "mandatory" today. It's not been described that way by VA employees and I'd be surprised if he had made it "mandatory" and no law suit was filed by a worker over it. (Added 7:20 pm, 10/09 -- as various press friends and two VSOs called to point out, he did mean it. In May, the VA started the mandatory program. I missed it. My error and my mistake, so my apologies.)
As usual with Shinseki, he doesn't appear to know what he's talking about.
What a gift the shut down is for him. He's not solved the backlog. He never appears able to do his job. He came in to office in early 2009 and was immediately told that when the new Post-9/11 GI Benefits rolled out, the system would be overwhelmed, unready for all the claims and veterans would suffer. As he told Congress after -- after -- veterans were without education checks and having to take out loans as they struggled to make bills, his immediate step was to hire an independent consultant who . . . told him the exact same thing.
At which point Shinseki failed or refused to notify Congress or to inform veterans of what was coming.
Here's how he put it October 15, 2009 (when he finally informed Congress):
A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially
began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan --
reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be
frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this
was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was
going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the
credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant,
brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do
some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the
folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard.
We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual
system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they
inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a
little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700
people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as
certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption
of how many people it would take."
If you missed it, don't feel bad, most people did. The press -- present at the hearing -- refused to cover it. As a Democratic member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (then and now) told me the next day, "I've never seen anything like it. The press is so in his [Barack Obama's] pocket that they won't even call out Shinseki after spending weeks drumming up this scandal at their outlets."
Now Shinseki gets a new excuse for not doing his job: shutdown.
It's funny, if we hadn't screamed our heads off here (and in Congressional offices), would Shinseki have finally agreed on a computer system?
A new system was required. DoD and VA computers were not compatible and Congress had allocated millions to develop a single computer record that would follow a person from service member to VA, making it easier to transition to veteran status, making medical care simpler and VA disability ratings easier.
Shinseki was supposed to do that in 2009. He only did it this year.
Robert Gates thought they agreed. But then Gates stepped down as Secretary of Defense and Shinseki was insisting it hadn't happened. Then new-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta thought they'd agreed. Then he retired and Chuck Hagel became Secretary of Defense.
And Shineski lied (that's the only word for it) to Congress claiming that no system had been selected (after he had been VA Secretary for four years) and was spinning so hard, claiming it was Chuck Hagel's fault because Hagel only just become Secretary of Defense.
Facing a huge outcry from Congress and afraid of it going public, Barack finally did what he should have done in 2009: Sat down with the VA Secretary and the Defense Secretary and said, 'We need to make a decision now.'
Shinseki did a really good job of whoring in today's hearing. The White House is so responsible and the Republicans are so irresponsible. That was his them and he was aided by many (such as US House Rep Raul Ruiz out of Los Angeles).
Thing is, in all the drama and whoring of the press, reality isn't coming through.
The reality is: The White House hasn't done their damn job from day one.
Barack's a liar and John Kerry's a liar (and I like John, but he's a liar).
Forget the fact that the House has passed budgets and the Senate's refused to go along. In fact, forget the stupid budget. Life has gone on.
Some in the press whine about this not being done or that. And WSWS every now then has a piece whining about safety -- it's in danger, you understand, because certain oversight isn't in place.
There's a lot of oversight not in place. And that was before the shutdown.
We're going to do one example and only one because I'm damn tired of putting in so much time on serious issues while the press f**ks around and doesn't do their job.
In any administration, there will be a level of fraud and waste. And administration is hundreds of thousands of employees. Temptation to misuse public money (greed) will take place on an individual level and on a systematic level.
Wise women and men in the government long, long ago realized there was a need for oversight that went beyond the checks and balances written into the system by the Constitution.
For this reason, Inspector Generals were created.
Again, we're just doing one example, we could do many more.
Who is the Inspector General for the State Dept?
Before you answer, please grasp that the State Dept has the largest budget it's ever had. That's not simple growth of the Dept or inflation. That's because the drawdown put the State Dept in charge of the billion dollar mission in Iraq and the Afghanistan drawdown (whenever it finally happens) will do the same. It is a huge budget.
The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstuction -- created by a Democratic Congress when a Republican occupied the White House -- found repeated examples of fraud and abuse. He found that, Stuart Bowen, Jr., during Bully Boy Bush's administration and he found it during Barack's. He found during Barack's despite the fact that the State Dept (under Hillary Clinton directly and Barack Obama over her) refused to cooperate, stonewalled on even basic questions. He complained publicly in hearings about this. Again, the press f**ked around and refused to do their job. They were there at the hearings, I saw them.
Democrats in Congress no longer cared about the SIGIR that they had created. They cared about not embarrassing Barack. Which is why there is no SIGIR today. The office has been closed, Congress refused to renew the act that created it.
That was done to protect Barack. Should a Republican be elected in 2016 (or the Supreme Court steal an election as they did in 2000), watch Democrats in Congress suddenly want to know where the money in Iraq went and is going.
For now, they don't give a damn.
Back to our question: Who is the Inspector General for the State Dept?
You might say, "Harold Geisel."
It's not Geisel.
It's not anyone.
No one is in the position.
Sometimes the White House lies and calls Geisel IG or 'acting' IG. His title is Deputy Inspector General. That has been his title since June 2, 2008.
Barack made it through an entire term without appointing an IG over the State Dept. I think many news watchers will agree the State Dept then and now needs one.
Let's drop back to the December 7, 2011 snapshot:
Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz: Before recognizing Ranking
Member [John] Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State
Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not have IGs in January. In May of this
year, I wrote the President asking him to move without delay to appoint
replacements. That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] Lieberman,
[Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House
Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member
[Elijah] Cummings and Ranking Member Tierney. I'd like to place a copy
of htis record into the record. Without objection, so ordered. To my
knowledge, the President has yet to nominate any of these replacements,
nor has he responded to this letter. I find that totally unacceptable.
This is a massive, massive effort. It's going to take some leadership
from the White House. These jobs cannot and will not be done if the
president fails to make these appointments. Upon taking office,
President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open
and transparent in history." You cannot achieve transparency without
inspectors general. Again, I urge President Obama and the Senate to
nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies and
For the record, the USAID IG? There's still none. And hasn't been since 2011. Last month, the White House finally found a nominee for DoD (whom the Senate immediately confirmed) Jon T. Rymer.
The State Dept needs an IG.
Earlier this year (February 4th), the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Chair Ed Royce and Ranking Member Eliot Engel wrote [PDF format warning]
a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry which addressed the IG issue:
As you begin your tenure, we would like to raise an issue essential
to the proper functioning of the Department of State. For more than
five years, since January 16, 2008, the Department has lacked a
presidentially-nominated, Senate-confirmed Inspector General. That gap
of more than 1,840 days is the longest vacancy of any of the 73
Inspector General positions across the federal government. While this
would be problematic under any circumstances, the repeated criticisms of
the independence and effectiveness of that office by the Government
Accountability Office (GAO) heighten the need for an appointment.
In addition, April 17th the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing (see April 17th snapshot, Wally covered it with "The buget hearing that avoided the budget," Ruth with "Kerry pressed on Benghazi," Kat with "I'm sick of Democrats in Congress" and Ava's with "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights"). From that day's snapshot:
US House Rep Ed Royce: And needless to say, given Washington's
chronic budget deficit, wasteful spending is intolerable. But even good
programs must be subject to prioritization. We can't do everything.
Along those lines, it is inexcusable that the State Department has been
operating for four-plus-years without a presidentially-nominated,
Senate-confirmed Inspector General. This Committee is committed to its
responsibility for overseeing the spending and other operations of the
State Department -- and that is a bipartisan commitment I am pleased to
join Mr. Engel in carrying out.
Ed Royce is the Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and he
was speaking at this morning's hearing on the State Department's
proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2014. Appearing before him was
Secretary of State John Kerry. Engel is US House Rep Eliot Engel who
is the Ranking Member. Other than his remarks beating the drums on Iran
-- and praising US President Barack Obama for the same ("Over the past
four years, President Obama has unified the international community
against this threat and signed into law the strongest-ever sanctions
against the regime in Tehran."") -- his opening remarks really don't
require noting here nor do even of his remarks during questioning. If
you believe a House members greatest duty is to serve Israel, then I've
short changed you. If you believe a US House member needs to be
covering US issues, Eliot Engel has short changed you.
The issue Royce raised is not a minor one. We first noted it December 7, 2011
when US House Rep Jason Chaffetz raised it in a hearing. We've noted
this lack of oversight many times since including last month with "Media again misses story (lack of oversight)." Maybe if the press had covered it, the position wouldn't have remained vacant for this record length.
Chair Ed Royce: I'd also like to call your attention to the State
Department's Inspector General's Office. This is the key independent
office looking at waste and fraud. Mr. Secretary, as of today, there
has been no permanent State Department Inspector General for over five
years. This includes President Obama's entire first term. The
Committee raised this issue in a bi-partisan letter sent to you in
February and we would like to see an immediate appointment to this
Secretary John Kerry: On the IG, you're absolutely correct. We're
-- we're trying to fill a number of positions right now, the IG among
them. The greatest difficulty that I'm finding now that I'm on the
other side of the fence is frankly the vetting process. And I've got
some folks that I selected way back in February when I first came in and
it's now April and I'm still waiting for the vetting to move. I've
talked to the White House. They're totally on board. They're trying to
get it moved. So I hope that within a very short span of time, you're
going to see these slots filled. They need to be. And that's just the
bottom line. It's important and I commit to you, we will.
Chair Ed Royce: I think this is the longest gap that we've had in
the history of this position. So if you could talk to the President
about this in short order, we would very much appreciate it.
Secretary John Kerry: I don't need to talk to the President, we're
going to get this done. We know it and we're trying to get the right
people. Matching person to task and also clearing all the other
hurdles, as I am finding, is not as easy as one always thinks. But
we'll get it done.
Six months ago, Kerry publicly stated, "We'll get it done." That he was talking to the White House.
That position should have been filled by Barack in 2009. It is now 2013 and it remains empty. This has never happened before. Grasp that.
And grasp that while press whores (who always suck up to whomever is in power) keep calling Republicans irresponsible, they've yet to hold Barack accountable for his first term, let alone this one.
He is not conducting himself in a responsible manner. Your first clue is that he's been president for five years and, for five years, there has been no Inspector General over the State Dept. 'Acting' doesn't cut it. 'Acting' has to tread carefully and knows it. When you think of all the State Dept scandals (including can't keep it in his pants Brett McGurk who Senate Democrats balked at as Barack's nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq but he somehow ended up over there, didn't he, as second in charge), it is clear that the dysfunction needed an adult overseeing what was going on. Barack has failed to provide for five years. So stop pretending he's 'responsible' or doing his job. He's not and the press needs to get off their knees, wipe their mouths and stop whoring.
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