By Mark Tapscott,
November 29, 2012
in life is assured, but Rep. Jeff Miller's Wednesday eruption against
Veterans Affairs officials' evasion of simple questions about waste and
incompetence in their department could mean a prominent place for him
in the history books.
Here's why: For decades, Congresses under majorities of both parties have
repeatedly passed grandly worded laws creating new federal departments,
agencies and programs, then left the hard work of shaping them to unelected,
unaccountable executive branch bureaucrats.
The results have been bureaucratic monsters whose out-of-control spending
and power-grabbing regulatory excesses are changing government from the
people's servant into their master.
At the same time, with so much power and authority being ceded to executive
branch bureaucrats, congressional oversight has become little more than
a formality. Congress has just about reduced itself to figurehead status,
and its public approval ratings are at historic lows.
That's the opposite of what the Founders intended by making Congress the
First Branch and the closest of the three to the people. Congress, especially
the House of Representatives, is supposed to use its power of the purse
and oversight authority thereby conferred to be the meanest junkyard dog
around in fighting bureaucratic excess.
Oversight is hard and tedious, but it is the most vital work of every
senator and representative. It requires time and smart, experienced, bare-knuckles
players on congressional staff. Too many members can't be bothered.
Miller's eruption was sparked by continued VA evasions about how much
it spends on employee conferences like the two Orlando, Fla., events last
year that featured an amateurish but tax-paid video parody of Gen. George
The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, which the Florida Republican
chairs, has now received three wildly divergent estimates from VA of its
total spending on such events, ranging from $20 million to $100 million
The third VA figure of $86 million was presented at Wednesday's hearing.
Miller's exasperation was clearly evident when VA's No. 2 official, W.
Scott Gould, couldn't explain the variation among the estimates.
Instead of merely venting his anger, Miller responded to the VA obstacles
by declaring, "The truce is over. Expect much more oversight from this
Miller was still fuming after the hearing, telling The Washington Examiner's
Mark Flatten that the committee "got the same old crap that VA has been
giving us for two years, and I am tired of it."
Perhaps to remove any doubt about his intention, Miller added that the
committee "will be digging in every possible corner that we can for issues
that are not being served for the veterans. If you have leadership within
the VA that have arrogant attitudes, the veterans are not being well-served."
Legions of veterans, many of whom left parts of themselves on battlefields
around the world, are hoping Miller will do exactly that. Because when
they came home, they found themselves fighting VA for benefits they surely
earned. The department has a backlog of an estimated 600,000 claims that
are at least 125 days old.
Gould's boss is VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, the retired four-star Army
general who as a young officer bled in Vietnam. It's not unreasonable
to think he could get the VA in shape, but it hasn't happened.
The VA is the second-largest federal department and may be the worst managed,
despite the multiplicity of candidates for that dubious distinction in
the nation's capitol. That is an outrage, because VA is supposed to serve
the men and women who have done the most for America.
If Miller is serious about digging into every corner of VA, he could show
the way to restoring congressional oversight to the place of importance
intended for it by the Founders.
Most importantly, it will make him a hero to America's veterans.
Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.