A Republican congressman is going after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for having almost 200 full-time interior designers.
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller thinks the designers are a significant factor in the troubled agency’s penchant for wasting tax dollars, and offering inadequate care to veterans
The Florida Republican — who has devoted much of his tenure as chairman to exposing waste, fraud and abuse in the VA — points to boondoggles like the department’s newest hospital in Aurora, Colo.
The Aurora facility inexplicably went more than $1 billion over budget, and the contractor walked off the job, blaming VA mismanagement. The hospital, which won’t be completed until 2018, features a glass concourse the size of a football field. Plans included imported Brazilian wood, $10 million in landscaping, and 70-foot-high glass walls.
Rep. Mike Coffman, the Colorado Republican who represents the district that includes the controversial facility, called the hospital’s design and furnishings “exotic.” One of the people in charge of building it admitted, “it’s not typical of a military hospital.”
Miller said having so many on-staff designers looking for ways to occupy themselves is one reason those kind of features are a recurring theme.
He noted in a letter to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald that the designers’ existence has an even greater financial impact than their salaries, because they help fuel VA’s penchant for elaborate architecture and mammoth art displays.
“This week it was reported in the media that VA has… 167 interior designers — most medical centers had an interior designer, and some medical centers had several,” he wrote, citing The Daily Caller News Foundation’s exclusive Aug. 8 story.
“I question the need for full time interior designers at individual facilities, especially given VA’s consistent pleas for greater health care funding and when a facility is not constructing a new building or a major renovation.
“In addition to diverting resources away from medical personnel who directly impact veterans’ care, it would seem that such a large number of interior designers would encourage the elaborately expensive hospital designs that VA has produced in recent years. You have expressed on several occasions that such architecturally unique designs are not in VA’s interest, and I agree,” Miller said.
The interior designers’ pay would total some $16 million a year if they make $100,000, including benefits. A recent job ad advertised $77,000 plus benefits, and said the job would go to a current federal employee, unless someone with a Ph.D in interior design emerged. (RELATED: VA Labor Contract Favors Union Bureaucrats Over Vets For Jobs)
Those designers selected and purchased an additional $16 million of art during the Obama administration, including $500,000 on artwork at a hospital for the blind.
Miller demanded a list of all VA interior designers and their salaries, and a justification for why regional offices can’t have one interior designer who travels to nearby hospitals when they are needed, such as during a renovation.
“Please explain how it is prudent to have so many interior designers when VA recently threatened to suspend provision of health care services due to a self-inflicted $3 billion budget shortfall,” he said, alluding to a common theme that the VA — spurred by its powerful employees union — often puts creating jobs for government workers over the department’s mission.
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