A U.S. senator is calling for the Department of Veterans Affairs to stop buying art for its facilities after a report found the agency spent $20 million on high-end art over the past decade.
Sen. Mark Kirk demanded that VA Secretary Robert McDonald place “an immediate moratorium on art purchases until a Congressionally approved process is formally instated” in a letter sent Tuesday.
Kirk’s stern call for procurement reform comes the same day a government watchdog group revealed the extent of the VA’s lavish spending in a Forbes article. Over the last 10 years, the VA spent $20 million on artwork, $16 million of which was spent under President Barack Obama’s tenure, according to research from American Transparency in partnership with COX Media Washington.(RELATED: Report: VA Spent $20 Million On Art Instead Of Hiring Doctors)
“Spending money on decorative art while veterans wait for care is unacceptable and Secretary McDonald should block any more purchases and formalize processes to use artwork by veterans instead,” Kirk said in a statement. “The VA has not taken the year-old directive to stop excessive spending and I’m calling for an immediate moratorium on art purchases until a Congressionally approved process is formally instated, so the American people are informed on how their tax dollars are spent.”
In his letter, Kirk, who is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies, called out McDonald for his department’s “extravagant spending” on artwork, including “$285,000 for art on the side of a parking garage displaying quotes by Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt that light up in Morse Code.”
Adam Andrzejewski, CEO of American Transparency, praised Kirk for his quick response to the VA’s questionable spending.
“Kirk’s immediate action on this issue recognizes our country’s moral obligation and reinforces our sacred social bond to provide proper healthcare for our veterans,” Andrzejewski told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Rather than eliminating art purchases entirely, Andrzejewski suggests the VA should buy art created by veterans. Veterans would then benefit and the VA could potentially save some money avoiding the boutique art market.
“Let’s empower veterans in the PTSD and therapy programs to benefit by having their artwork displayed in VA medical centers rather than the pricey artwork highlighted in our oversight reporting,” Andrzejewski told TheDCNF.
American Transparency found the VA’s art purchases by sorting through all their spending over the past decade. Their research is part a larger report on the VA’s spending in the two years after whistleblowers revealed that veterans were dying before they could see a VA doctor. Andrzejewski’s team discovered that the VA often concealed art purchases by marking them as furniture in the online system that tracks government spending.
“The VA is not using a federal procurement code of artwork,” Andrzejewski told TheDCNF. “When we looked at the line by line furniture spending, we saw, repeatedly, descriptions of high-end art.” The VA marked about $5 million of the $20 million total spent on art as furniture, and coded other $15 million under a host of other categories.
American Transparency’s website, OpenTheBooks.com, catalogs questionable spending across the federal government. While the VA is not be the only government department spending taxpayer money on luxury art, they appear to be the spending the most, according to Andrzejewski. “In our preliminary research, the VA is a leader in the procurement of artwork, but the practice looks to be spread through 72 federal agencies,” Andrzejewski told TheDCNF.
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