House proposal gives VA's budget process a facelift

Wednesday - 7/17/2013, 8:15pm EDT

By Cogan Schneier
Special to Federal News Radio

Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine) wants to change the way the Veterans Affairs Department develops its annual budget.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2013 Wednesday requiring VA to take a more strategic view of its short- and long-term spending plans.

Michaud used the metaphor of buying a house to explain the reasoning behind the bill.

"When we look to purchase a house we consider many factors," Michaud said today during the committee's hearing on this bill and several others. "We consider the purchase price, we look at all the items that go into determining what our overall cost will be, from taxes to utilities to maintenance, and so on. We gather as much information as we can to assess whether this investment will be a good one in the years ahead. We look at the quality of the local schools, the prevalence of crime and the long-term trends in our economy that might have an impact on what our house is worth in the future. I believe the VA should go through a similar process with regard to its capabilities to carry out its mission."

Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla) also supports the bill.

Michaud said the bill would establish a Quadrennial Veterans Review — similar to those reviews done by the departments of Defense and Homeland Security — to be sure the VA meets veterans' changing needs. The bill also would establish a five-year program to lay out a path and resources for VA's budget. Michaud said focusing on the future would force the VA to fully account for the taxpayer dollars it receives.

The bill also would appoint a chief strategy officer at VA to oversee the planning and programming phases of the budget and align the spending plans with the execution phases.

"All these stages must be in place to create a mechanism that will better ensure that the VA budget provides the resources tailored to the missions of the department and that the need for these resources is fully defensible," Michaud said.

Michaud said that though the bill uses agencies such as the DoD or DHS as models for long-range planning, he created the legislation to meet specific VA needs.

He said that the bill should improve the transparency of VA's plans in a time when its budget is growing. President Barack Obama's budget proposal includes a 4 percent spending increase for VA in fiscal 2014.

Wednesday's hearing also considered a bill Michaud introduced with Miller to fully fund VA's discretionary budget a year ahead of schedule, called the "Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013" and another bill that makes Government Accountability Office reports on VA's funding and budgets permanent.

Cogan Schneier is an intern for Federal News Radio.

RELATED STORIES:

House passes budget bill boosting vets programs

Budget calls for 4 percent spending increase at VA