The American Legion – March 11, 2010

American Legion Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division Director Barry Searle was among those attending a House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing Wednesday that focused on the future of the Department of Veterans Affairs. The hearing was conducted by Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., to better understand the challenges that face VA in the future and what is needed to transform the agency into a 21st-century organization. VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki offered his assessment of how to improve the structure and implement necessary changes to provide veterans the best care and benefits in the most effective and efficient way possible.

“We are not looking for a piecemeal approach to structuring VA to best address the needs of America’s veterans,” Filner told Shinseki. “Rather, we want to hear about your vision and your assessment of what tools you need, including a proposal that would amend Title 38 to add an additional assistant secretary and eight deputy assistant secretaries. Our hope is to come out of this with a plan we can all get behind that meets the needs of the department and our veterans.”

Current law provides for “not more than seven Assistant Secretaries” and limits the number of deputy assistant secretaries to a number “not exceeding 19, as the Secretary may determine.” As part of its restructuring efforts, VA is seeking legislation that would authorize an additional assistant secretary and eight deputy assistant secretaries.

Shinseki, outlined 4 principles guiding VA into the future:

An increased agility in order to take advantage of and leverage resources;
Showing a demonstrable return on investment;
An improved service to veteran customers; and
Controlling costs.

The secretary also identified past shortcomings that were in failures in IT and acquisition management. In order to improve the process, Shinseki discussed his proposal to add an additional assistant secretary and increase the number of deputy assistant secretaries by 40 percent. He testified that adding positions “is not about creating a new layer of bureaucracy – it is about streamlining and aligning our organization in ways that will better align our priorities with the most responsible use of funds entrusted to the department.”

For both Information Technology and acquisitions, Shinseki said, “past weaknesses have stemmed from overly decentralized control, lack of enterprise-wide information and, in some cases, improvised policies. Managers in the field lacked supervision, guidance, and sustained support; and policies were applied inconsistently.” He identified the next step to producing better results as “strengthening management infrastructure, especially pursuing acquisition reform, paired with continued consolidation of Information Technology management.”