Illinois Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth is shooting for a seat in the Senate and touting her record with veterans, but while she served as a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) official, her office wasted $5.2 million dollars in a single contract.
The Senate confirmed Duckworth as assistant secretary of the Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA) at the VA April 22, 2009. She served from April to June, 2011, when she resigned to run for a House seat.
After Duckworth left, the inspector general produced a report in 2014 that found OPIA blew $5.2 million on a contract for “services that lacked a specific connection to VA’s strategic outreach objectives,” and despite OPIA’s best efforts, the office could not prove that Woodpile’s outreach campaigns “yielded any increases in the use of VA healthcare, benefits, or services by veterans.”
During Duckworth’s tenure, a memo from Jan. 11, 2010, stated that OPIA needed a contractor to take on the task of a rebranding campaign, as no one on staff had the ability or expertise. In July of that same year, OPIA handed Woodpile a $5.2 million contract for “outreach campaigns,” but the inspector general report found numerous invoices that did not “clearly link to accomplishment of VA outreach goals.”
OPIA did not implement any performance metrics to assess the effectiveness of Woodpile’s work.
As the IG noted, “This contract lacked specific deliverables and billings were based on a level of effort by labor category. For example, the deliverables included broad activities such as copyrighting, graphics support, and strategic consultation to be performed as needed with no required outputs.”
Further, the VA sought out new contracts for outreach campaigns without taking a moment to assess whether the Woodpile contract was ever effective.
In response to these findings, OPIA protested that poor oversight was due to management turnover.
“OPIA management indicated that the National Veterans Outreach program office had experienced significant employee turnover that contributed to ineffective oversight of the Woodpile contract from FY 2010 to FY 2013,” the report stated. “For example, an OPIA program official stated that the vacant Assistant Secretary and Director for the National Outreach Office positions disrupted program continuity and the staff needed to effectively monitor the outreach services contracts were not put in place.”
At the time the report was released in 2014, the acting assistant secretary agreed with all the findings. But Duckworth was long gone by then, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed by GOP Sen. Mark Kirk’s campaign.
“During a time when veterans desperately needed more doctors and nurses at the VA to address chronic and severe wait times for care, Duckworth instead wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on a failed marketing effort that did nothing to help veterans,” Kevin Artl, Kirk For Senate campaign manager, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “This report outlines a continued pattern of Duckworth wasting taxpayer dollars and putting politics above veterans’ care.”
Although this particular incident has not previously been reported on, other VA scandals involving Duckworth are far more public.
Duckworth formerly served as head of the Illinois VA and has had to face a seven-year-long lawsuit alleging retaliation against whistleblowers. The trial date is set before the polls open in November and could decisively shift the outcome of the election.
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