House wants better long-term planning from VA

Before Veterans Affairs Department officials make another promise, House lawmakers want to know how much it's going to cost.

The chamber on Tuesday passed new legislation requiring VA to develop an annual five-year budget plan for congressional review, produce a holistic review of VA goals every four years, and hire a chief strategy officer to oversee that work.

The moves would bring VA more in line with the Defense Department's long-term budget planning, based on its Quadrennial Defense Review. Supporters of doing the same for VA argue that it could help the department avoid some of the resource problems it has seen in recent years.

"No longer would VA be able to announce ambitious goals such as ending homelessness or eliminating the claims backlog without members of Congress and the public having insight into the estimated long-range resources that are going to be needed to meet those goals," House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said during floor debate on the measure.

"With a $168 billion budget, veterans and taxpayers deserve full transparency when it comes to how scarce resources are planned to be allocated."

Lawmakers have long lamented what they see as a dearth of long-term planning in VA operations, and criticized recent promises from officials as lacking a foundation of responsible planning to actually carry out those plans.

Outsiders also blame the 2011 decision by VA leaders to mandate that all patients be seen within 14 days as the seed that grew into the 2014 scandal over patient wait time and records manipulation, which forced the resignation of several senior department leaders.

The new legislation, passed unanimously by the Republican controlled Congress, was sponsored by Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.

In a statement after the vote, she said she sees the legislation as a way to boost VA's transparency and effectiveness for years to come.

Senate leaders have not said when they might consider the bill.

The legislation contains no additional funds, which means VA officials would have to find ways to pay for the new chief strategy officer position and workload within the existing budget.

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