A culture of “lawlessness and chaos” reigns at the Department of Veterans Affairs when it comes to purchasing goods and services for the Veterans Health Administration, according to senior official Jan R. Frye.
Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, first brought to light problems of abuse back in March. He decided to air the information publicly after his 35-page memorandum to VA Secretary Robert McDonald went completely unanswered.
The sum total of the chaos amounts to at least $6 billion in wasted funds spent in violation of federal contracting rules, The Washington Post reports.
One of the most egregious methods designed to skirt federal rules is the use of purchase cards for large-scale purchases totaling billions. These purchase cards are normally intended to make it easier to acquire small items conveniently. Instead, employees used the cards to subvert contracting rules, bringing in $1.2 billion dollars’ worth of prosthetics. VA employees often collaborate together to split purchases across cards to keep the total under $3,000 dollars, all the while purchasing items far over that limit.
Aside from waste is the larger problem of underhanded purchasing undermining the health and safety of veterans, since the whole point of competitive bidding is to ensure the selection of quality drugs and medical supplies.
This isn’t a new phenomenon. According to Frye, the problem has persisted for years because employees continually misuse 23,000 purchase cards held by the VA.
McDonald issued a response Thursday, thanking Frye for bringing up allegations and promising the inspector general would examine his claims. If any evidence of harm is found, the government watchdog will forward the information to the Department of Justice. Possible criminal charges may follow.
However, McDonald said Frye owns the scandal. “[I]t’s Jan’s responsibility to fix it,” McDonald told Government Executive.
While Frye greatly respects McDonald, he was frankly shocked. Since becoming a reluctant whistleblower, Frye says he has been totally shunned by the department.
“I hope VA is embarrassed, ashamed,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller said, upon hearing the news at a hearing. “I’m tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over again. Nothing is changing regardless of what leadership is telling this committee. Nothing is changing.”