va scandal.jpg

The disgraceful malfeasance of the Department of Veterans Affairs is now proceeding to government playbook phase two. The playbook rules forbid identification and punishment the guilty, it blames the system, requires a mandatory plan to just throw money at it to placate the public, and a proposal to “move on.” After all, elections are coming up in November and in spite of their outward animosity toward each other all incumbents have one thing in common, they cherish their positions most of all. No one wants to finger and punish the guilty parties – stains spread.

The administration, just like several previous administrations, has the primary responsibility; after all they manage and run the VA, its more than 250,000 employees, and a combined annual budget of $152 billion.  However, by agreeing to play the no-blame game they dampen the political heat on themselves and their executives.

The predictable solution is multiyear plan costing an added $16.3 billon – money just waiting to be misspent without a good analysis. A week after the bill signing it will have all been forgotten; it may have been forgotten already. Please don’t try to argue that I refuse to give them the tools they need; that is simply political claptrap from the no responsibility playbook. They may need the money, but who can we trust to say so?

First of all, we know many VA facilities, even in expensive areas of the country, have functioned reasonably well under their current budgets. Care was good, waiting times reasonable, and the system users were usually well satisfied.  Therefore, there must be a fundamental difference in how those good facilities are managed in contrast to those engaged in rampant deceptions and cover ups. Shouldn’t we identify the problem before spending a fortune to bulk up the poorly led and managed facilities?

Second, who came up with these numbers? The answer is that for the most part they were the same political appointees, executives and senior career administrators who were running things during the scandal. These are the same folks who also came up with the original bonus plan that was going to fix everything last time and is now blamed for the cheating. That is not a good record of success.

When so many serious problems exist for so long there are only three ways that key people can be in the dark. One is that they have not installed the necessary management systems to measure true performance; that is incompetence. The second is that they know the system is being played but do not care to know the truth; that is dishonesty. The third case is where there is a conspiracy to keep the boss in the dark; that is misplaced confidence, loyalty, and a reason for dismissal. In any case the same people cannot be trusted to solve the problem – if they could be trusted they would have at least demanded honest evaluation before now.

The new Secretary of Veterans Affairs is undoubtedly competent, honest, and well-intentioned, but so was the last one and looked what happened to him. The careerists and political appointees took him for a ride – “everything is fine, don’t worry be happy.” The new secretary can’t possibly have had sufficient time to evaluate the key staff so many of whom were participants in the current fiasco; how can we rely on their judgment now?
No doubt money can hide a multitude of sins, but it is the most expensive and least effective and efficient of solutions. 

We need analysis and corrections first, not papering over with billions of dollars just because an election in the offering.