Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Like outsourcing the military worked…

with 2 comments

The problem with outsourcing operations, as all know who have tried it, is that you have to create and maintain a structure to monitor the outsourced operation, providing oversight and quality checks. We have seen the failures of outsourcing to Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater. But the GOP loves to give contracts (and taxpayer money) to campaign contributor’s companies, regardless of how terribly the companies do the work. ThinkProgress reports that Bush is still at it:

In June — after months of kicking and screaming — President Bush finally signed a war supplemental spending bill that included a doubling of GI Bill college benefits for veterans.

Bush’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), however, doesn’t seem too happy about the increased work these new benefits will create and plans to outsource it all. Last month, VA Secretary James Peake wrote to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union announcing the plan. From Peake’s letter, obtained by ThinkProgress:

The challenges of creating the procedures and systems to support a new program and ensuring accurate and timely benefit payments under this new program effective August 1, 2009, will tax VA’s resources. … Therefore, the decision has been made to seek private-sector support to implement this new program.

The government wants to automate all GI Bill requests and is looking to hire a private contractor to set up such a system. AFGE is condemning this decision, which would dump the expertise of 850 government employees who are able to process a veteran’s request for GI benefits within 20 days.

The VA is arguing that with this new outsourcing plan, benefits could be processed in minutes. Veterans advocates point to the Bush administration’s abysmal record in hiring contractors who have no expertise in the area they’re hired to work:

Marty Conatser, American Legion: “Our newest generation of veterans deserve the benefits administered by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, not outside contractors. Patients, critics and most media all cite the outstanding job the VA is doing. Outsourcing is not the answer.”

Rick Weidman, Vietnam Veterans of America: “If anything goes wrong, I’ll tell you what’ll happen, and it’s what always happens in these instances, is they’ll say, ‘Well, it’s not our job, it’s the VA’s.’ And the VA will say, ‘We can’t do anything, it’s contracted out. It’s the contractor’s job.’ And that is baloney. The problem isn’t the troops; the problem is the leadership.”

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ): “I just cannot believe that we’d ever allow this to happen. The level of service won’t be the same.”

So far, the Bush administration has treated this contracting process like it has so many others — with secrecy. As NPR reported today, the VA has so far “handpicked only a small number of companies to compete for the contract, and so far, officials won’t even reveal the companies’ names.”

Perhaps this move by the Bush administration is intended to take the agency one step closer to McCain’s dream of privatized veterans health care?

Written by Leisureguy

9 September 2008 at 3:36 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Like the VA doesn’t have problems? Lest I remind you of the huge data loss and breach of security by this huge bureacracy?

    Foot dragging, culture of indifference cited at subcommittee hearing on VA data loss

    Washington, D.C. — On Wednesday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on the January loss at the Birmingham, Ala., Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center of data belonging to more than 500,000 veterans and 1.3 million non-VA health care providers. Subcommittee Ranking Member Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), criticized bureaucratic responses to subcommittee questions from VA officials, the Government Accountability Office and VA’s Office of the Inspector General.

    “Last year the VA and Secretary Nicholson promised us that they were going to meet the “Gold Standard” of IT security in the U.S. government,” Brown-Waite said. “What I heard today was a lot of bureaucratic foot dragging, complicated flow chart proposals, and no real action on ensuring our veterans’ privacy is protected. It seems to me there is a lack of willpower to enforce IT security at the VA by top administrators, and a Paleolithic civil service hiring and firing system that lets employees who violate the data security guidelines keep their jobs. Either way, it’s high time we held someone accountable for these types of actions.”

    On January 22, 2007, an employee of the VA hospital in Birmingham allegedly lost control of the sensitive data. The compromised information includes the names of non-VA health care providers who have ever billed Medicare or Medicaid. This information also includes their universal provider identification numbers and state medical license numbers, creating the potential for fraud. It is not known if the data was lost or stolen. This follows the massive breach last year at the VA that compromised the data of some 26.5 million veterans and 2.5 million active duty and family members.

    “I was also astounded to hear that the VA does not have a plan in place, more than a month after the loss of data occurred, to notify the doctors and medical care providers whose data was compromised. These health care providers are the front line in helping meet the critical care needs of our nation’s health care consumers,” Brown-Waite said, noting that these providers may now be exposed to identity theft, and may have fraudulent claims and billings made in their names to Medicare and Medicaid.

    “It is clear to me from this hearing that there is a culture at the VA that says, ‘do as you wish, not as the regulations say’. For far too long there have been serious IT breaches, with significant losses of personal data, and little change in the culture or administration,” Brown-Waite said. “I can tell you that this subcommittee is fed up with the foot dragging and will be taking further action to make positive changes within the VA.”

    “Between 1998 and 2005, the General Accounting Office identified weaknesses in data security and made over 150 recommendations to the VA on implementing effective controls on information security,” said subcommittee member Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.). “The VA’s own Office of the Inspector General has published reports on information security at the department annually, and I am concerned that the same 16 recommendations from fiscal year 2004 remain unaddressed. Three critical areas of concern were highlighted in the OIG’s latest report, concluding that the VA is vulnerable to disrupting virus attacks, disruption of mission-critical systems and unauthorized access to sensitive data.”

    Stearns has called for VA to hold officials accountable for data security and VA officials pledged to tighten security in response to last year’s security breach.

    “The VA has the capability of storing encrypted data and to prevent unauthorized access though passwords, yet the data loss in Birmingham was not encrypted and stored on a vulnerable external drive,” Stearns said, calling for VA officials at the highest levels to commit to changing the VA culture that fails to secure personal information.



    9 September 2008 at 11:36 pm

  2. The VA has serious problems under the Bush Administration, starved for funds and run by appointees with no sense of the mission and no relevant experience. The answer, my friend, is to fix the VA, not leave it a mess and hand over operations to a campaign contributor or two. And, indeed, with the VA as it is today, it’s not in shape to set up to monitor and oversee a third-party operation. So, again: fix the VA. Fortunately, it looks as though we’ll have a Democratic administration, and Democrats can make government work.



    10 September 2008 at 8:21 am

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