Once upon a time, a federal agency had a problem.
But in an unpredictable plot twist, the agency told Congress it didn’t need any new money to solve that problem.
A few weeks later, lawmakers ignored the agency and tried to give it $2 billion anyway.
This fable actually played itself out over the last few weeks, and it stands as just the latest example of waste through the failure of Congress to aggressively manage federal agencies.
The agency is the Department of Veterans Affairs. In June, VA Secretary David Shulkin warned that the Veterans Choice Program, which lets veterans access healthcare outside the VA system, was going to run out of money soon.
But instead of asking for more money, Shulkin said the VA had all the money it needed and asked that Congress authorize the VA to move existing funds around.
You don’t hear that one every day, and senators had to go over it a few times to be sure they were hearing him right.
“I guess … my takeaway is assuming that your budget numbers are right … there is no emergency is what you’re telling us, that Choice will continue between now and the end of the fiscal year without additional input of money as long as there can be a transfer of, I suppose it’s discretionary spending into the mandatory account,” Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., asked Shulkin.
“Yeah,” Shulkin said.
“So the emergency is not more money,” Moran double-checked.
“Right,” Shulkin confirmed.
That was in June, when Congress maybe had time to figure out how to shuffle VA money around. But a month later and with money for the Choice program running low, Shulkin wrote to the House and said that now it was time to appropriate more money to keep the program running past August.
“Veterans need Congress to fund the Choice Program immediately with $2.1 billion to ensure sufficient funding is in place,” Shulkin wrote.
It’s not entirely clear how the VA went from having enough money to needing $2.1 billion in the space of a month. But according to people…