The federal government’s audit agency announced this week that it’s launching a comprehensive review of management at the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, aiming to explain to Congress how the nation’s largest healthcare network could improve its administration and better serve patients.
The Government Accountability Office agreed to launch the audit just two weeks after it labeled the VA a “high-risk agency” because of its “ambiguous policies,” “inadequate oversight” and “unclear resource needs.”
The GAO opened the investigation into VA management following a request from U.S. Democratic Reps. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor and Corinne Brown of Florida. Brown is the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Kilmer has been asking for an outside look at VA management since a VA audit confirmed reports last year that employees at its Phoenix hospital had doctored data to hide delays patients faced while waiting for appointments. The scandal in Phoenix prompted the resignation of then-VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
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A subsequent audit flagged unspecified concerns at other VA hospitals, including ones in the Puget Sound area.
“We need to see a change of culture and an improvement of performance,” Kilmer said.
The VA commands a $168 billion annual budget and employs more than 312,000 people. In the Puget Sound, the network cares for almost 100,000 patients a year in a network anchored by hospitals in Lakewood and in Seattle.
The agency has faced harsh scrutiny in the Republican-led House Veterans Affairs Committee, whose members have complained the VA is unresponsive to requests for information.
Shinseki’s successor, Robert McDonald, has proposed a reorganization of the Veterans Health Administration. Today, the system has 20 regional networks that oversee care in groups of states. McDonald’s proposal would consolidate into five regional headquarters reporting to the VA central office in Washington, D.C.
Kilmer originally asked for the GAO audit in a bill he submitted last summer. It also requested an ombudsman program for employees to suggest improvements to the system and a pilot program to test better management practices. The bill has not advanced.
He and Brown wrote a letter to the GAO in late January asking for the audit. Kilmer’s office this week released the letter in which the GAO announced its pending review.
The audit “will give us a roadmap so we can assure that abuses from the top-down won’t happen again,” Kilmer said.