A senior procurement official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told a House subcommittee on Thursday that VA management has willfully ignored his warning that the VA continues to spend billions of dollars a year in violation of federal procurement law.
"Today I find myself in a position I never envisioned myself to be in," Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics at the VA, said in prepared testimony to a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee. "I am testifying as a whistle blower."
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has been accused of ignoring warnings that the VA has been spending billions of dollars each year in violation of federal procurement law. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN
"I am here before you, because I have been unsuccessful in my persistent attempts to bring massive violations of federal acquisition and fiscal laws and regulations to a halt in VA," he added.
Frye outlined his latest attempt to tell VA Secretary Bob McDonald that the VA was illegally buying $6 billion worth of goods in the absence of a competitive bidding structure, which he said likely resulted in millions of dollars wasted. Frye wrote a 35-page memo to McDonald back in March, but said McDonald has done nothing.
He also said he tried to report "massive, illegal acts" to Congress in 2013, but said he was thwarted in part by a senior VA official.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), who chairs the subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing that the VA appears to be continuing to try to ignore and silence Frye. Coffman said the VA tried to prevent Frye from testifying today, and only appeared after the committee insisted several times that Frye appear.
"Over the past five years, some senior VA acquisition and finance officials have willfully violated the public trust while Federal procurement and financial laws were debased," Frye said. "Their overt actions and dereliction of duties combined have resulted in billions of taxpayer dollars being spent without regard to Federal laws and regulations, making a mockery of federal statutes."
"I am not aware of a single senior acquisition leader being held accountable for wrongdoing or dereliction in the nearly 10 years I've been in my present VA position," he added.
He said that when the VA buys off contract, it gives up legal protections that it would have if it used a contract. But instead of buying through contracts and competitive bidding, the VA has been buying billions of dollars worth of goods on the fly.
In one example cited by the Washington Post, the VA spent about $1.2 billion worth of prosthetics over the last 18 months, using "purchase cards" that were supposed to be used for small purchases.
He also warned the committee that VA officials would try to downplay these issues, even when asked directly by Congress.
"If you happen to ask us about what we’ve failed to tell you, we hope we can answer your questions in such a way as to quickly extinguish potential follow-on questions," he said in his prepared remarks. "In short, obfuscation is our game."
"I will no longer be a party to these VA games," he added. "The vaunted Veterans Affairs ICARE values, with Integrity being first, make an attractive lapel pin, but little else if we don’t live these values daily."