[House Hearing, 112 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]



 
               VA CONFERENCE SPENDING AND ACCOUNTABILITY

=======================================================================


                                HEARING

                               before the

                     COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

                     U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

                      ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS

                             SECOND SESSION

                               __________

                      WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2012

                               __________

                           Serial No. 112-81

                               __________

       Printed for the use of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs




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                     COMMITTEE ON VETERANS' AFFAIRS

                     JEFF MILLER, Florida, Chairman

CLIFF STEARNS, Florida               BOB FILNER, California, Ranking
DOUG LAMBORN, Colorado               CORRINE BROWN, Florida
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida            SILVESTRE REYES, Texas
DAVID P. ROE, Tennessee              MICHAEL H. MICHAUD, Maine
MARLIN A. STUTZMAN, Indiana          LINDA T. SANCHEZ, California
BILL FLORES, Texas                   BRUCE L. BRALEY, Iowa
BILL JOHNSON, Ohio                   JERRY McNERNEY, California
JEFF DENHAM, California              JOE DONNELLY, Indiana
JON RUNYAN, New Jersey               TIMOTHY J. WALZ, Minnesota
DAN BENISHEK, Michigan               JOHN BARROW, Georgia
ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York          RUSS CARNAHAN, Missouri
TIM HUELSKAMP, Kansas
MARK E. AMODEI, Nevada
ROBERT L. TURNER, New York

            Helen W. Tolar, Staff Director and Chief Counsel

Pursuant to clause 2(e)(4) of Rule XI of the Rules of the House, public 
hearing records of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs are also 
published in electronic form. The printed hearing record remains the 
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of converting between various electronic formats may introduce 
unintentional errors or omissions. Such occurrences are inherent in the 
current publication process and should diminish as the process is 
further refined.


                            C O N T E N T S

                               __________

                           November 28, 2012

                                                                   Page

VA Conference Spending And Accountability........................     1

                           OPENING STATEMENTS

Chairman Jeff Miller.............................................     1
    Prepared Statement of Chairman Miller........................    33
Hon. Corrine Brown, Acting Ranking Democratic Member.............     3
    Prepared Statement of C. Brown...............................    34

                               WITNESSES

Hon. W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of 
  Veterans Affairs...............................................     4
    Prepared Statement of Hon. Gould.............................    34
    Accompanied by:

      Mr. W. Todd Grams, Executive in Charge, Office of 
          Management, Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Department of 
          Veterans Affairs
      Ms. Phillipa Anderson, Assistant General Counsel, U.S. 
          Department of Veterans Affairs

                        QUESTION FOR THE RECORD

Question From: Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member to Hon. Eric 
  K. Shinseki, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs....    41
Response From: Hon. Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary, U.S. Department 
  of Veterans Affairs............................................    42

                        MATERIALS FOR THE RECORD

Deliverables for VBA from Rep. Michaud...........................    44
Memorandum from Chief of Staff (00A), Department of Veterans 
  Affairs........................................................    49


               VA CONFERENCE SPENDING AND ACCOUNTABILITY

                      Wednesday, November 28, 2012

                     U.S. House of Representatives,
                            Committee on Veterans' Affairs,
                                                   Washington, D.C.
    The Committee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:14 a.m., in 
Room 334, Cannon House Office Building, Hon. Jeff Miller 
[Chairman of the Committee] presiding.
    Present: Representatives Miller, Bilirakis, Roe, Stutzman, 
Flores, Johnson, Runyan, Benishek, Huelskamp, Brown, Michaud, 
McNerney, Donnelly, Walz, and Barrow.
    Also present: Representative Al Green of Texas.

           OPENING STATEMENT OF CHAIRMAN JEFF MILLER

    The Chairman. Good morning. This hearing will come to 
order.
    And I recognize Ms. Brown for a UC request.
    Ms. Brown. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I would like to be recognized in order to ask unanimous 
consent that the gentleman from Texas, Mr. Green, be allowed to 
join us at the dais and participate in today's hearing. I am 
sure he will be in in the next couple of minutes.
    The Chairman. Without objection, so ordered.
    Thanks everybody for being here. We are here today to 
examine in detail VA's conference spending, particularly 
following the VA inspector general's highlighting the wasteful 
spending that occurred at HR conferences in Orlando in 2011. I 
also want to examine VA's response to this Committee and 
Congress regarding its conference spending.
    I think that fundamentally this hearing is about 
accountability, accountability to the veterans, to the 
taxpayers and to this oversight Committee, and I am concerned 
on all fronts. And I want to briefly share today why.
    On the 16th of August of this year, the Ranking Member and 
I sent a letter to the Secretary asking a series of questions 
relating to VA's conference spending. In that letter, we 
referenced the conflicting testimonies that we had received 
over the course of the 112th Congress regarding VA's total 
expenditures. First, we were told $20 million was spent in 
fiscal year 2011 on conferences. Then we were told it was a 
little over $100 million. Finally, we were told that there 
really was no accurate, reliable figure on conference spending 
that existed.
    And because of these discrepancies, we asked for 
clarification of VA's total conference spending for that year 
and prior years as well as a breakdown of all individual 
conferences. So rather than receiving what----welcome, sir.
    Mr. Green. Thank you.
    The Chairman. Rather than receiving what we would say is a 
coherent response clearly explaining the discrepancies and 
answering all of the questions that we posed, VA produced what 
I term as a ``data dump'' of information to the Committee under 
the cover of a letter by the Assistant Secretary For 
Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Joan Mooney, on August 
24th of 2012.
    Even though I discussed what I believed was a lack of 
response to our letter at the Committee's September 25th 
hearing, we were not informed by Ms. Mooney until a week later 
that her letter and the information provided along with it 
served as the Secretary's official response.
    But even assuming that was provided in August was what the 
Secretary intended to be the official response, our questions 
still remain unanswered.
    These questions that were answered conflicted with prior 
testimony given by VA. For example, when we tallied up, when 
we, the Committee, tallied up total VA conference expenditures 
for fiscal year 2011, based on the information that VA had 
provided to us, it came to $86.5 million. This represents the 
fourth answer provided to the Committee for VA conference 
spending in 2011. First was $20 million; then over $100 
million; then no reliable number; then the number that we came 
up with was $86.5 million.
    Now the confusion over what VA's actual conference spending 
is reminds me of the inspector general's report on the Orlando 
conferences in which they found VA's reported expenditures were 
incorrect.
    Absent any clear response, I am left to wonder whether VA, 
at best, has no reliable controls on its spending or, at worst, 
is hiding----and hopefully I don't believe that this is the 
case----but that VA is trying to hide something from the 
Committee. And so during questioning, hopefully we will be able 
to get further answers this morning.
    Further, after reading that VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich 
would, going forward, be approving all overseas travel on 
behalf of VA, I asked staff to inquire about VA's spending on 
foreign travel. I wanted to know how much was spent on overseas 
trips over the last 3 years, what were the purposes of the 
trip, and who went on the trips. This is pretty 
straightforward. It was made in August, and I repeated it 
several times, yet I have not gotten an answer. I have no 
answers, which would help us understand whether the pictures 
posted on the VA Canteen Service's twitter feed and Facebook 
page of a European field trip, which if you look at the screen, 
everybody can see----there. Those are pictures----do you have 
the sheet you gave me?
    Those are pictures from Italy on the Facebook page of the 
VA's Veterans Canteen Service.
    One of the things that bothered me the most was a post that 
said, somebody wrote in and said, ``tough trip.'' VA Canteen 
Service response was, ``research is tough, but someone has to 
do it.'' Is this a boondoggle, or not a boondoggle? At best, 
these pictures are of a privately funded vacation posted on a 
government Web page, or at worst, it was taxpayer-financed with 
no known legitimate purpose.
    The point is that if VA refuses to respond in a timely 
fashion for requests of information, we have no way of knowing, 
except by exercising the extraordinary step of this Committee 
issuing a subpoena.
    Unfortunately, lengthy delays or not responding to requests 
at all has become the normal for VA. I have asked the staff to 
compile a list of all outstanding requests I or my staff has 
made since our accountability hearing in September. It is not a 
partisan issue, because I think some of the same frustration is 
shared with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle.
    But of the 91 total requests of VA made by letter, email, 
over the telephone or in meetings, 91 requests, VA has only 
answered 16. Seventy-five requests are still outstanding; 66 of 
those are either past 2 weeks or beyond VA's agreed date for 
delivery of the information.
    In a touch of irony, VA's testimony for this hearing was 
almost 8 hours late. We clearly have a problem, and I think we 
all want to get to the bottom of it, both with respect to 
conference spending and VA's relationship with this oversight 
Committee.
    As an aside, I asked Ms. Mooney to testify today regarding 
these and other matters but was told she would be on vacation. 
She said that all of her official actions could be addressed by 
the Deputy Secretary in her absence.
    And I trust you are prepared to do that, Mr. Gould.
    So, with that, I recognize our Ranking Member this morning, 
Ms. Brown, for her opening statement.

    [The prepared statement of Chairman Miller appears in the 
Appendix]

           OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. CORRINE BROWN, 
                ACTING RANKING DEMOCRATIC MEMBER

    Ms. Brown. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    And good morning everyone.
    Mr. Chairman, I thank you for holding this hearing on VA 
conference spending. I am sure our veterans and American people 
are waiting to hear from the VA about the two conferences that 
we are talking about.
    I think this is important for all organizations to have 
conferences and training. It certainly helps with creating an 
efficient and effective workforce that we will be better able 
to serve the Nation's veterans. I also encourage our Federal 
agencies to support areas outside of Washington when planning 
and deciding on these events. The conference in Orlando helped 
to boost economic opportunities----disclaimer, in my district--
--and also other districts.
    Promotional items, travel expenses, our witness today may 
not have been involved in the conference financing and planning 
decisions, but they were in positions of authority to approve 
the conference budget. I actually hope these two conferences 
are not just the tip of the iceberg of misjudgment and wasteful 
spending but rather are two isolated incidents from which the 
agencies can learn.
    We already know that VA processing and oversight mechanisms 
that were in place were insufficient and that management failed 
to review and monitor the expense of the conference. The 
question is, how can we fix it, and what can we do to ensure 
that this doesn't happen again? We are looking forward to 
ensuring that going forward, VA's senior leadership approaches 
spending taxpayer dollars with the same care and attention that 
they would approach spending their own dollars.
    The Department of Veterans Affairs Official Inspector 
General Report, ``Administrative Investigation of the Fiscal 
Year 2011 Human Resource Conferences in Orlando,'' indicates 
several problems that were outlined and recommendations were 
made. Following the recommendations, the administration took 
appropriate action. I am looking forward to hearing today's 
testimony.
    And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    And I yield back the balance of my time.

    [The prepared statement of Hon. Brown appears in the 
Appendix]

    The Chairman. Thank you very much, Ms. Brown.
    I want to welcome the first panel and only panel of 
witnesses to the table this morning. First, Honorable W. Scott 
Gould, Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the U.S. 
Department of Veterans Affairs. With him, Mr. W. Todd Grams, 
Executive in charge for the Office of Financial Management and 
Chief Financial Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs, and Ms. Phillipa Anderson, Assistant General Counsel 
for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
    Thank you very much for being here with us today.
    Mr. Secretary, you are recognized for 5 minutes.

 STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE W. SCOTT GOULD, DEPUTY SECRETARY, 
  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; ACCOMPANIED BY W. TODD 
    GRAMS, EXECUTIVE IN CHARGE, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT, CHIEF 
  FINANCIAL OFFICER, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS; AND 
 PHILLIPA ANDERSON, ASSISTANT GENERAL COUNSEL, U.S. DEPARTMENT 
                      OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

                STATEMENT OF HON. W. SCOTT GOULD

    Mr. Gould. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Chairman Miller, 
Ranking Member Brown, distinguished Members of the House 
Committee on Veterans' Affairs, thank you for your steadfast 
support for America's veterans and for this opportunity to 
testify on VA's commitment to oversight, accountability and 
training for our employees.
    Mr. Chairman, our written statement and ask that it be 
included in the record.
    The Chairman. Without objection.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you.
    VA's first priority is always providing our Nation's 
veterans with the best care, services and benefits possible. 
For that reason, none were more disappointed than the Secretary 
and I in the lapses in oversight and judgment identified by the 
VA inspector general's report on the execution of two human 
resources and administration conferences in Orlando in 2011.
    As Secretary Shinseki said upon the public release of the 
report, the failures outlined in it represent abdications of 
responsibility, failures of judgment and serious lapses of 
stewardship. Those failures were unacceptable, and I apologize 
to veterans and to this Committee for their occurrence.
    Accordingly, we have taken immediate action, consistent 
with the recommendations of the IG report, to strengthen 
oversight of training conferences, improve accountability and 
safeguard taxpayer dollars. The IG report stated that the 
Secretary provided a responsive action plan addressing the IG's 
recommendations. VA has removed purchasing authority from 
employees in the work unit under investigation. We have 
directed outside independent reviews of all training conference 
policies and procedures. We have directed ethics training for 
all VA personnel involved with the planning or execution of the 
conferences and undertaken an internal review of training 
conference approval processes to ensure compliance with Federal 
law and regulation, administration policy and departmental 
policy.
    As a result of the internal review, VA issued a revised 
conference planning and oversight policy in September of this 
year, establishing new standards to ensure senior executives 
exercise due diligence in the planning, execution and 
management of their sponsored training conferences.
    In summary, this policy demanded three things. First, every 
event will have a single point of accountability at the senior 
executive level. Second, each event will have four phases: 
concept, development, execution and reporting, each with its 
own objectives, metrics and standards of execution to ensure 
value and accountability. And third, a new training support 
office to assist VA employees in meeting our new reporting 
requirements.
    I am confident that these new policies will improve 
accountability, and we look forward to receiving the final 
reports from the ongoing third party reviews to further hone 
our processes and ensure accountability. While we are 
aggressively addressing the issues identified by the IG, we 
also recognize the critical importance of VA training. The IG 
report states that VA's HR conferences in Orlando were held to 
fulfill valid training needs and that they offered legitimate 
substantive training courses, making clear that our focus on 
legitimate and required training is not in question.
    A large number of VA doctors, nurses, claims processors, 
human resource specialists and other dedicated VA employees 
and, most importantly, our Nation's veterans benefit from VA 
training every year. Veterans expect, require and deserve a 
professional, well-trained workforce. Our department's mission 
and sacred obligation is to honor and best serve our veterans. 
Incumbent in that mission is the nonnegotiable requirement to 
manage our resources carefully and ensure that there is always 
appropriate oversight of and accountability for our acts.
    We look forward to working with this Committee to ensure 
that that happens consistently, fairly and routinely, while 
preserving the ability to train our personnel to deliver high-
quality care, benefits and services.
    Mr. Chairman, I will be glad to answer questions from you 
and other Members of the Committee. Thank you.

    [The prepared statement of W. Scott Gould appears in the 
Appendix]

    The Chairman. Thank you very much. I originally had 
contemplated swearing in the witnesses today, but I do not 
intend to do that. I expect that all answers will be full and 
complete or taken for the record and, if taken for the record, 
that we will receive a timely response to the questions.
    Have you or anyone at the table been directed to withhold 
or delay the transmission of requested information to this 
Committee?
    Mr. Gould. No, Mr. Chairman.
    The Chairman. Have you or anybody here directed others to 
delay anything to this Committee?
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, there are many instances where in 
the interest of providing accurate information, we continue to 
review and analyze the information that we gather to meet the 
many requests of this Committee. I would cite as examples of 
that work that we have done to testify in over 100 
congressional hearings, to respond to 1,100 congressional 
briefings, to formally respond to over 6,000 specific policy 
requests. We have responded to over 3,000 questions for the 
record. I could go on, but the idea is a simple one, that we 
have a steady and very large flow of information to this 
Committee and others on the Hill, and I just submit to you that 
making sure that the information is properly and accurately 
prepared is paramount in our mind.
    The Chairman. Is it your testimony, then, that you are not 
aware of anybody at VA directing anybody to withhold 
information from this Committee?
    Mr. Gould. My testimony would be that we are absolutely 
committed to congressional oversight, that we have provided a 
constant flow of information to this Committee and that our 
intent is to do so in an accurate and thorough manner.
    The Chairman. On behalf of the entire Committee, I ask 
again, can we get your assurances that the 66 overdue requests 
for information that this Committee has made can be responded 
to in a timely fashion, and what do you consider a timely 
fashion? Obviously, you probably don't know what all 66 
requests are, but some of them are very long in being responded 
to. And I think part of the problem that we have had has been 
we ask a question, it doesn't get responded to; we ask again, 
and then, of course, it gives the impression that somebody is 
not wanting to provide timely information. So I want to say can 
you do it by the end of the week? Obviously, the end of the 
week is pretty quick.
    What type of answer would you give me?
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, first of all, I have directed our 
congressional team to respond to oversight requests 
expeditiously.
    Let me just give you an example just to put this in context 
and for veterans and viewers that might be listening at home. 
This Committee had a very active engagement in oversight on the 
pharmaceutical prime vendor, you recall that, PPV, on that 
single series of exchange, we provided this Committee almost 
35,000 documents and emails. And so I would just point out 
that, Mr. Chairman, we both recognize the need to fulfill our 
duty to submit to congressional oversight. We have done so in 
the past in enormous volume. There is a range of inquiries that 
we get from your Committee, sir, and others on the Senate side 
as well, and in the effort to provide accurate information, to 
do it well, we often run into time delays, and that is the sole 
reason for our delay here.
    The Chairman. And of course, the whole genesis, the PPV 
issue, was we had requested and requested and requested the 
information. We hadn't gotten any information. We threatened to 
subpoena, got an agreement from VA, and of course, in a very 
short amount of time, all of that documentation appeared. So I 
certainly understand that as well.
    If we can, I talked about the different, in the travel and 
conference schedules, the different numbers that we had come up 
with, do we have yet, or does VA have a number that was spent 
on travel in 2011 for conference spending? Conference spending.
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, as we begin the discussion on 
costs in your opening remarks, I am certainly appreciative of 
the fact of the different numbers that you have received and I 
am sure many people are listening thinking, well, why would 
that be the case? Before I turn to our CFO and give a little 
bit of detail into that, I just want the Committee to take 
stock of the fact that we have received over 125 requests for 
information about travel. When those requests come in, they 
come in for different time periods, different purposes, with 
different cutoff points, 20, 50, 100, and in fact define cost 
for training in different ways. One different example is, is 
travel included or not?
    So Mr. Grams I think can shed some additional light here, 
but I just want to temper the Committee's review and as you 
listen to this understand that there is an enormous burden on 
VA to respond professionally well and accurately to a range of 
requests coming at us from different individuals with different 
definitions.
    The Chairman. And if I can, Mr. Grams, let's add one more 
that the request be answered timely.
    Mr. Gould. Yes.
    The Chairman. You failed to put that in your response as 
well as.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for that correction.
    Mr. Grams. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would say that when 
it comes to conference costs, you were given all the numbers 
that you mentioned earlier. The best and most current estimate 
that we have are the numbers that you cited, the 86.5, that was 
the, if you add everything that was up in the material that we 
gave to this conference and to this Committee and Chairman 
Issa, that is the best number that we have today.
    If I may, let me explain why these numbers are changing. 
There are I would say two periods in budget and finance in 
government right now, before conference and after conference. 
And this attention on conferences happened all in the past 
year. The traditional way, the way we are required by the rules 
and procedures in putting together our budget at the VA and the 
Federal budget at large that comes to Congress, goes through 
OMB, does not specifically identify conference costs, be that 
good or bad that has never been a requirement. However, all the 
costs are captured and accounted for in our budget, the travel 
for conference is under the line item in the budget of travel. 
The supplies and materials are under supplies and materials.
    So what we are being asked to do, be it good or bad, it is 
the reality right now, is to find a way to go across those what 
are called object classes or budget accounts, travel, supplies, 
materials, et cetera, et cetera, contractor support. We now 
have to go through all those accounts in the VA and pull out 
for each conference those different pieces and then add those 
numbers up.
    This is the first time we have had to do that at a 
cumulative level because of the new requirements on conference, 
and it is becoming an iterative process. I do believe the 
numbers are getting better over time.
    Our focus right now is to have a manual system, which is 
being put into place so that we are collecting this data as we 
do the conferences now in a more, in a more cohesive way of 
capturing those different dollars across the different accounts 
so that we have it up front so this doesn't become kind of a 
fire drill exercise when we are asked a question.
    Our goal in the future is to have an automated system that 
will do this for us so we are focused on the future so that we 
make sure these numbers stop changing and we have a better 
count.
    The Chairman. If I can, and I know my time has expired, but 
can you talk a little bit about foreign travel and why we are 
having such a difficult time getting information in regards 
to----there can't be that much foreign travel done by the 
Department of Veterans Affairs.
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, thank you for that question.
    Your photos earlier on, obviously, the first time we have 
seen those even though you got them from our Web site I would 
just point out that we have a community of physicians that are 
renowned across the world as leaders in their field. We spend a 
half a billion dollars a year in research and development, and 
we are smart enough to know that there are other smart folks 
out there in other countries that may have insights, 
suggestions and scientific advances that can help us serve our 
veterans more effectively. We are working to improve our 
knowledge of health care at every turn, and that includes being 
open to the idea of leaving this country to go find that.
    So we are hard at work making sure that we pull together 
that information. You asked a request for a 3-year period, and 
as Mr. Grams just testified, this is a data pull that our 
financial management system is not set up to do quickly or 
well.
    The Chairman. Very simple question.
    Mr. Gould. Yes.
    The Chairman. How much money is spent on foreign travel by 
the Department of Veterans Affairs?
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, we are looking to provide that 
information to you. I am sure in this environment, folks know 
that we have a tendency to litigate on just about every figure 
we put before the Committee lots of discussion pro and con and 
analysis. Sir, with respect, you just did it to start off 
remarks here, four different numbers. We are very committed to 
making sure that we provide you a single number that is 
accurate and correct. We will do so, and we know we have an 
obligation to do that.
    The Chairman. Ms. Brown.
    Ms. Brown. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
    Mr. Secretary, I have a question for you, because recently 
I had to go to Bethesda, and I was out there, and there were 
numerous veterans out there that had lost several limbs, and of 
course, with the new technology, we are saving many lives, but 
they are coming back, and they need all kind of help and 
assistance. Your position, what else do you do besides respond 
to us, Congress? Do you have any other responsibilities to the 
veterans?
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am.
    Ms. Brown. I would like to know what they are, because 
obviously, we don't know.
    Mr. Gould. One of the----
    Ms. Brown. As Under Secretary, that is what I want to know, 
what are you doing to help those veterans?
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am. So that is our number one mission.
    Ms. Brown. Are you sure?
    Mr. Gould. To provide the health care and the benefits that 
our veterans need and that they have earned and that they 
deserve. Secretary Shinseki has laid out an aggressive program 
to improve access. We have added 800,000 people to the roll; 
put more youngsters in school, we have almost 1 million on the 
new GI Bill now; reduce homelessness, we have dropped that 
number substantially almost 20 percent in the last 2 and a half 
years, so progress has been made. And that is our prime role. 
At the same time that we engaged in a process that is as 
important as this one is today, we find ourselves focused on 
less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the budget and a set of 
actions that we freely admit that should never have happened, 
but we end up diverting the activities of the senior management 
team to fulfill this particular discussion on training 
conferences in Orlando.
    Ms. Brown. You mentioned the pharmaceutical.
    Mr. Gould. Yes.
    Ms. Brown. And that was a good example. How many pieces----
and it was like 3 years, but I need to know about those 
veterans that have lost so many limbs. What are we doing? You 
are the Under Secretary. What else do you do, besides respond 
to us?
    Mr. Gould. Well, of course, our number one role in the 
entire system is set up to stay focused on our mission, serving 
the veterans, providing them with health care and benefits, 
burial services that they have earned and that they deserve. 
The bulk of our day and our desire is to be spent on serving 
them. We start every day with a desire to help our veterans. We 
hold our veterans' needs first and foremost in our mind and we 
work to avoid the distraction as senior leaders and managers 
while fulfilling our legal responsibility to submit to 
oversight and appropriate oversight in a timely fashion.
    Ms. Brown. Well, as a Member of Congress, obviously, we 
want you to spend X amount of time with the veterans. But my 
question, I know you are over the entire VA, how much time with 
all of these requests that we have, like the pharmaceuticals--
--I thought that was a great example of just you needed a whole 
staff just to deal with that, that issue, a whole staff.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am.
    Ms. Brown. It was ludicrous. And many people have come up 
to me that were at that hearing and have responded to it. 
Because it was, you know, I got called on it, but it was just 
what I called it, because it was ludicrous. Give us that 
pharmaceutical response again.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am. We provided 35,000 pages of 
information to the Committee. I do not know how many folks are 
on the professional staff here, but that is a whole lot of 
reading to do the emails that were associated with it. I 
imagine a great deal of work was taken up in the Committee as 
well.
    From the VA perspective, that took an enormous amount of 
time of our counsel, of our employees. Look, if I have to come 
up here and spend time, that is really not a problem. I am here 
to serve the President and do what I must, but it, what really 
bothers me when our line operators get drawn into a process 
that pulls them away from serving veterans.
    The Chairman. Would the gentlelady yield?
    Ms. Brown. She would gladly yield.
    The Chairman. I just would remind Members of the Committee 
that it was a unanimous, bipartisan subpoena that was voted on 
in this Committee, because we were not able to get the 
information that we were trying to acquire, and we knew that it 
was voluminous, but that still does not discharge us from our 
responsibility of requesting that information so----and then it 
came in a pretty timely fashion after we----in fact, let me 
give you one little interesting tidbit. I had no idea VA, if 
Joan Mooney told me correctly, VA has never been subpoenaed in 
40 years. That was the first time this Committee had ever 
threatened to subpoena. And I find that good in a way, and it 
may also say that we haven't done our oversight responsibility 
as well.
    Senator----
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Chairman, if I could. Mr. Chairman could I 
respond briefly.
    The Chairman. Certainly.
    Mr. Gould. It would just be to observe the following. When 
we performed and provided the information that you requested, 
35,000 pages, one theory is that we went back with the subpoena 
and just threw that together in 3 or 4 days. What I would 
submit for the Chairman's consideration was that was the end of 
a very long process, which we had already taken your requests 
very seriously and were working and then finally were able to 
deliver. So the cause and effect there, sir, respectfully, is 
out of joint.
    The Chairman. And I would also say that it would not have 
gotten to this Committee without the threat of a subpoena.
    Mr. Donnelly. Congratulations.
    Mr. Donnelly. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I would just like to say in regards to the work that was 
done on the pharmaceutical issue, which I was part of and 
Members on both sides were part of, that the effort was to try 
to make sure that every taxpayer dollar was spent wisely, that 
rules were followed, and that we appreciated the VA's effort in 
doing that and that the VA acknowledged that, hey, you know, we 
have to make sure that those rules are being followed as well. 
So I never considered it as ludicrous, I considered it as doing 
our job and what we are on this Committee to do.
    Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    The Chairman. Thank you very much.
    I was reminded by the Ranking Member that it was not my 
time to yield.
    Ms. Brown, your time has expired.
    Ms. Brown. You took my time. That is what happens when you 
are in the minority.
    Congratulations, Senator.
    The Chairman. Mr. Flores.
    Mr. Flores. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    Thank you, panel, for joining us today.
    I have a few questions. First of all, I am very concerned 
about what we have here. This is, even though the point was 
made we are talking about just part of 1 percent of what the VA 
spends to try to take care of our veterans, what it did tell 
us, though, is that there is a culture at the VA that doesn't 
put the veterans first. I mean, trips to Italy and the food 
parade we saw on the screen up there was very disappointing to 
me. It reminds me of the pictures I saw of the GSA individual 
that was in a hot tub in Las Vegas. He was unelected, he is 
unaccountable, he is irresponsible with taxpayer dollars. It 
almost seems like it is bureaucrats versus the veterans. And to 
me the veterans come first, and I could care less about 
bureaucrats.
    Now, Mr. Gould, in your testimony you described one of the 
responsibilities of the new RCE, or the responsible conference 
executive, to ensure the conference was executed within 5 
percent of planned budget.
    My question is why is it 5 percent? Why isn't it exactly or 
under budget as we go forward? One of the things I have looked 
at, I have looked at a summary of the policy that you put 
together to try to make sure that conferences, conference 
dollars are spent appropriately, and I see that we have set up 
a conference certifying official. We have got a corporate 
training support office. We have to create an after-action 
review report. Then we have got this responsible conference 
executive. We just create offices and bureaucrats and reports 
to try to offset the fact that we have got a broken culture.
    So two parts to the question, with the fiscal situation the 
country is in, A, why are we having these conferences to start 
with? I think you tried to explain it, but we have got 3.8 
million Americans today that are some, in some sort of online 
secondary education or post high school education today. Why 
can't we look at things like that?
    Why can't we, part two, why can't we ensure that the 
conferences are carried out on budget, not within 5 percent? It 
should be on or under budget.
    And then, number three, what are we going to do to fix the 
culture so that this stuff doesn't come up in the beginning?
    You don't want to be here testifying. I don't want you here 
testifying about this kind of crap. I want you all to do your 
job and take care of the veterans.
    So please answer the questions.
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, thank you.
    Just let me start with the piece about our employees at VA, 
320,000 of them, sir, I know that you do not intend to draw a 
generalization from this instance to every one of the 320,000 
people that show up to work hard at our organization every day. 
I can tell you they are committed to our mission. They are 
hardworking, and they are mortified at what happened in 
Orlando. But it is not evidence of the character or the desire 
to serve our veterans, in my view, one iota.
    Your observation about having a single accountable 
executive you are right, that is part of the new program, and 
it is a response to a new question that Congress has asked us, 
who is the single point of accountability? We have an answer to 
that question. That is the RCE at the senior executive level.
    A moment ago, you brought up a question about variance; why 
wouldn't we have a tighter standard on that? Let me give you a 
simple example. We design effective training. People hear about 
it by word of mouth. The subscription rate goes up. Suddenly we 
have a cost variance there, some extra seats and some extra 
costs associated with that. So by no means are we saying that 5 
percent is acceptable, our RCEs are going to work hard to make 
sure that there is accountability in the process, but we don't 
want to tighten down in a process that has some natural flow 
due to operations that, at least in my perspective, we could 
avoid.
    And your last comment about the declaration of the travel, 
excuse me, the training and support office, look, if we pursue 
this kind of oversight and response to its logical conclusion, 
it would be like operating a grocery store and having a 
security guard next to every can of soup in the place.
    I agree with you; we should not be going to that overkill 
on oversight. That is why I believe it is terribly important 
that today we balance both our active plan to improve 
oversight, to address the issues that so concern you, but at 
the same time avoid clamping down on important training, 
valuable training, that I think we all agree our veterans need 
and deserve.
    Mr. Flores. I yield back.
    The Chairman. Mr. Michaud.
    Mr. Michaud. I want to thank the Chairman and Ranking 
Member for having this follow-up hearing today, and on the 
outset, I want to say that it is extremely important that 
training does occur to make the department more efficient. I 
think that is important. However, I do not appreciate wasting 
taxpayers' money and not keeping a close eye on that. So I want 
to thank the panel for being here this morning.
    I have a couple of questions. I read the inspector 
general's report, and part of the recommendations on page 22 
and 23 is very similar for a lot of the different employees 
that were involved. The Secretary's response to the 
recommendations two through seven as far as hiring someone 
outside the VA to look at and determine the appropriate 
administrative action be taken against these employees; in the 
Secretary's response, he agreed to all of them as it relates to 
other employees, with the exception of the chief of staff, 
which was not included in looking at outside groups to look at 
appropriate actions be taken. Why was the chief of staff 
separate from the other employees as far as the Secretary's 
response to the inspector general's report?
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, Mr. Michaud.
    First of all, I want to join you again in acknowledging the 
problems here that in our view is unacceptable that this money 
was wasted, and we are hard at work in implementing the plan 
that the inspector general has reviewed and has determined to 
be fully responsive.
    I would argue that our accountability mechanisms through 
the entire chain of command, including the chief of staff, are 
very much a part of our overall accountability efforts and let 
me describe them to you, but to do that, I have to fix each 
individual in a structure of accountability and responsibility 
to start with. So to begin, this program that was conducted in 
Orlando, Florida, was the suggestion of our Assistant Secretary 
For Human Resources and Administration. In concept, it began 
with a simple idea. We have done a survey; in 30 key areas of 
competence, we see a gap in 24 of them.
    So our employees are not trained where they need to be, and 
we need to do something about it.
    So at a very high level, the assistant secretary in 
question goes to the chief of staff with a one or two-pager and 
says, look, will you authorize my proceeding to design and 
execute this event. The chief of staff did that, and then 
subsequently, in my view, the execution went wrong. But it was 
not the authorization to do, in my view, highly justified, well 
justified training.
    So as you look at the different roles, the chief of staff, 
we have taken administrative action. The Secretary has 
completed that. The inspector general has concurred that it was 
appropriate. At the assistant secretary level, unfortunately, 
Mr. Sepulveda has resigned directly connected with this issue. 
And then, at a third level down, the senior executives and 
career individuals involved under Title V, are entitled to a 
due process, and that process is continuing.
    So let me just state for the record that Chief Gingrich is 
an extraordinarily talented public servant. He has worked 
extremely hard. He authorized this program at a high level, and 
the inspector general has concurred that the administrative 
action taken was appropriate.
    Mr. Michaud. Thank you. VA response also to recommendation 
number eight mentions that the general counsel is developing a 
comprehensive policy to address issues identified in the 
report. Has that policy been completely finalized? Are you 
still working on some parts of it?
    Mr. Gould. I will turn to Ms. Anderson in just a moment to 
give you some of the detail. But at a high level, we have 
policy already, not wanting to wait. Our action plan is 
published in the IG report. While the third party review is 
conducted, we are going to get new information about how to do 
this better and with greater accountability. We are going to 
incorporate that work in. So this is clear action already taken 
and additional action to follow.
    Ms. Anderson. Thank you. The work group----I was a member 
of a work group led by the general counsel. The work group was 
charted on August 22nd of this year. We met for the first time 
on September 6th, several days later. The work group included 
representatives of VHA, NCA, VBA, the Office of Management 
Acquisition and other staff offices.
    We believe that the work group, the composition of the work 
group included all of those stakeholders of interest in the 
conference planning, conference execution, as well as the 
budget process of conferences.
    What we found, we found really no lack of policies and 
procedures in the areas of the conference related policies and 
procedures. There are many policies on travel, financial 
management, acquisition and even conference planning. They were 
in different spots, however. We decided that a comprehensive 
policy is necessary, one-stop shopping, if you will, as well as 
we found a gap in identifying or having identified one 
individual or an individual responsible for the execution and 
management of conferences.
    In the IG report, the failures were in found in the 
execution and management as the Secretary mentioned, not in the 
concept. So that is where we focused our development of the 
policy.
    The two main features of that policy are, one, the 
identification of a conference-certifying official. That 
official is responsible, at the SES level, not to be delegated, 
responsible for exercising due diligence in the development and 
planning of the conference, presents it to the Under Secretary 
or Assistant Secretary, and that concept is then certified and 
provided to the reviewer and approver for the conference.
    We didn't stop there. We also concluded that it was 
necessary to have one individual responsible and accountable 
for the actual execution and management of the conferences. And 
we have identified that individual as the responsible 
conference executive, again, an SES level. That person is 
responsible for basically assuring that hopefully those 
deficiencies that were found in the IG report, the use of the 
purchase cards, going beyond the scope of the contract, that 
that would not be done, that responsible----that official looks 
at the conference from the beginning through the end, 
accounting for what is done, the requirements, and the costing.
    Fifteen days after the conference, that responsible 
official is to certify that all of the laws, all of the 
policies and regulations, they have been in compliance and 
also, 30 days after, submits an after action report, and one 
final, that that official is responsible for submitting the 
costs. And so we are----again, we pointed out that we are 
tracking the costs. So there is one individual now responsible 
and accountable in addition to the certifying conference 
official.
    Mr. Michaud. Thank you.
    The Chairman. Mr. Flores.
    Mr. Flores. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
    I would like to follow up. Again, I came from the real 
world before I ran for Congress and I ran a company and was a C 
level officer for 20 years. And I never would have tolerated, I 
never would have participated in an organization that had a 
culture like this. I would have tried to fix the culture. It 
wouldn't need all the extra policies and procedures if we could 
get just a culture where we followed the policies and 
procedures and the law that exists. If we had, if it was 
clearly----if it was clear from the outset that if you violated 
law or violated statute or you violated policy, you would lose 
your job. I think we would have a lot fewer problems of this 
nature.
    One of the things we talked about, let's say that we have 
an RCE, and the conference goes over budget. What are the 
implications if a conference goes over budget?
    Mr. Gould. Sir, are you directing the question to me.
    Mr. Flores. Whoever can answer it.
    Mr. Gould. Let me take the first piece and then we can talk 
about the specific remedies that are available if the RCE were 
to surpass their authorities or other problem would emerge.
    Like you, I come from the private sector as well, and I 
understand and it resonates with me. Culture is all important 
in an organization. That is why we have spent so much time 
focused on our values, integrity, commitment, advocacy, 
respect, and excellence. But we know in organizations as big as 
an organization like the VA, you don't always get it right, but 
the vast majority of the individuals we have and the culture we 
are trying to create at VA to transform this organization 
begins with that bedrock recognition that we are here to serve 
our veterans and this is all about our values.
    In fact, training itself plays a key role in that. Those 
are just words on a piece of paper if they don't become real in 
the field. One of the ways that you get that out there is by 
doing the kind of valuable investment, holding the conferences, 
bringing people together, getting the information, having the 
discussions and translating those values into action so that 
your organization becomes increasingly self-policing, 
increasingly able----
    Mr. Flores. Let's just cut to the chase. What are you going 
to do if you have a conference go over? What happens?
    Mr. Gould. I invite Ms. Anderson to describe what those 
remedies are.
    Mr. Flores. Fifteen seconds or less. What are you going to 
do?
    Ms. Anderson. We will review the cause, if the cause is a 
lack of, that the RCE or the certifying conference official did 
not exercise----
    Mr. Flores. Let's just say they went out there and made a 
bunch of videos, they bought a bunch of swag, and they ate a 
bunch of food and went over budget, what are you going to do?
    Ms. Anderson. We will go through the due process as we are 
doing today. There is an administrative body that is, they are 
reviewing the actions, and they will recommend action.
    Mr. Flores. Okay so----
    The Chairman. Mr. Flores, I apologize, if you could hold 
your follow up, I accidentally recognized you, and it was Dr. 
Roe's time, so I would ask you to hold if you would on your 
follow-up questions. Dr. Roe.
    Mr. Roe. Yes, sir. I thought you had forgotten about me for 
a minute.
    The Chairman. Never.
    Mr. Roe. A couple of things that, and I agree with Mr. 
Michaud, that you do need continuing education and conferences, 
there is no question about that. Having spent over 30 years in 
the private sector and having requirements to be able to 
continue to admit people to a hospital, there are requirements 
there every year about CE, continuing education. Those things 
occur in HR and various things. And what we would do is every 
year, we would see what those requirements were for our 
practices. And we would budget a certain amount of money that 
would allow that person to go ahead because we were spending 
our own money. And we have met those requirements, that is what 
we did.
    And the requirements were, number one, does this conference 
that we are going to, is it a play thing in Orlando, am I going 
to see Mickey Mouse, or am I going to learn something? And when 
I get back, did it meet those needs? That is all we did and it 
is pretty simple. We did that 30 years.
    I also put on a continuing medical education course for 30 
years, so I know exactly how it is done because I have done it.
    The perception out there when you see this, if you are a 
taxpayer in east Tennessee where I live, just barely getting 
by, and you are paying your taxes and you see these silly 
videos or you see these other things, even if it is a tenth of 
whatever percent, it is hundreds of thousands and millions of 
dollars, and to us where we live, that is a lot of money. And 
the perception out there is if you have got one set of rules 
for people in government, and the other perception is there is 
the rest of us out there in the real world. And perception is 
reality in politics. And so that is what I see here, and it is 
embarrassing for me to go home and try to explain to people why 
their money is being wasted.
    Now if I am doing your continuing education, I am going to 
know what HR people need, and I am going to look for creative 
ways to use the Internet, to use distance learning, to use all 
of those things that will help cut my costs. And you should be 
able to tell us in 2 seconds how much money was spent on travel 
for conferences. That ought to be pretty simple. I could tell 
you in two seconds where in my practice, I could find it in 5 
minutes, can tell you exactly what it was. If you give me a 
phone call I can make that call and have that information in 5 
minutes what we spent last year completely for 100 providers 
and 450 employees. I can tell you that.
    And I don't know why it is that you can't tell us how much 
you spent, how much you spent on travel; how much do you budget 
when you go to a meeting like in Orlando? Is it just a carte 
blanche? You just get to, is there a certain per diem you get 
to pay for each day, and how much money are you spending? Those 
things ought to be fairly simple. Is that done?
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, thank you for that question.
    Your comment about perception is right on the money, and 
that is why it is critically important that I think we hold two 
ideas in our minds in this discussion today: On the one hand, 
that the training that we do that is requirements-based; it is 
focused on helping people do their jobs better and serving 
veterans is done well; and at the same time, that we strongly 
disapprove, we join you in condemning the activities, the 
misconduct that led to the waste of this money. There is no 
question those two things, those two ideas, have to be there to 
have a balanced view of what has gone on in Orlando, so I might 
just say, with all due respect, a 450-person organization is a 
little bit different than a 320,000-person organization. That 
is why it takes time to do that.
    Mr. Roe. Look, I understand that, but checks are checks. 
You have got to write a check at the end of the day, and people 
are paying for this. And I have veterans that come up and say, 
I can't get in the hospital down here, Doc. I am in a line 40 
miles long, and then they show me this videotape where they 
show me this plush event that occurred in Orlando. It is very 
hard to explain that to people and do it with a smile on your 
face. It is embarrassing.
    I will I tell you who it is embarrassing for. It is 
embarrassing for the 300-something-thousand hardworking VA 
people who are then tagged with that, I can tell you that. I 
know that what you said is correct. There are a lot of very, 
very good people. Many of them are some of my best friends on 
this Earth, who work hard every day for veterans, and it is 
embarrassing for them.
    I don't know whether you budget a certain amount, whether 
you look at those needs, whether it has even been peeled down, 
that is fairly simple stuff. The VA ought to be able to do 
that. You know, there are 154 hospitals. You know what 
requirements are needed to keep those folks certified. There 
should be a budget for that and a policy to do that. I don't 
know why that hadn't been done.
    Mr. Roe. One other quick question, Mr. Chairman, if I can. 
I will try not to run over my time.
    Does the employment education system plan the conference 
planning or funding? Can you explain to us how that works.
    Mr. Gould. I am sorry. Say the question again, sir?
    Mr. Roe. The employee education system?
    Mr. Gould. Yes.
    Mr. Roe. It does, it is part of the budget?
    Mr. Gould. Yes, that is correct. We have essentially two 
entities that do complementary aspects of training. Employee 
Education Service, founded in legislation in the 1970s, focused 
primarily on physician recertification, care, nurses, medical 
and the like. And then VALU, the VA Learning University, that 
is focused on the same kind of cost cutting and cost effective 
measures you mentioned a moment ago, we do about 75 percent of 
our training using the Web today. That number continues to 
increase. One of the reasons why it has is the role that VALU 
has played in making sure we do as much of it as we can.
    Mr. Roe. Just one last comment. One of the reasons that we 
switched to as much of the Internet distance learning as we 
could was that it was a lot cheaper. Number one, it was much 
cheaper. And secondly, you didn't have to travel away and spend 
all the money at hotels and airports and cabs and all that. It 
saved us a tremendous amount of money, and we got the same 
value.
    If there will be a second round, Mr. Chairman, I may have 
some more questions. I yield back.
    The Chairman. Thank you.
    Mr. Walz.
    Mr. Walz. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Congratulations to you, 
too, on your appointment to the Chairmanship. Our veterans are 
well served with that appointment. Once again, Dr. Roe hit the 
nail right on the head. And I will continue his line of 
thinking on this. As you know, Mr. Gould, I am the staunchest 
supporter of our heroes in the VA. But because of that, I also 
need to be the harshest critic. And I think the thing in here, 
and the one thing I would say is a Wounded Warrior laying in 
the polytrauma center in Minneapolis, which arguably getting 
the best care in the world for those wounds, I would argue that 
is the real word. I don't think we need to make the separation 
in that. I would also make the case that two-thirds of Fortune 
500 CEOs complained about ineffective professional development 
for their people too. So this is an area that is plagued. That 
doesn't excuse us not getting this right. And the thing as a 
teacher that this worries me the most is that Dr. Roe is 
exactly right, and everyone who has spoken is, the perception 
amongst the public is this is a good time free-for-all on the 
public's dollar, not to get anything out of this. The thing 
that has always concerned me about professional development is 
why aren't we back planning it from the results that Dr. Roe 
talked about what we are going to get out of this? I have got 
to be honest with you. If you are doing professional 
development and the wait time on claims increases, your 
professional development stinks. And that is the way it is. I 
say this, I am looking at teachers that they did 1,300 studies 
and a meta analysis of this, and what we found out in teaching 
is of doing that is if there is of 49 core hours, 18 things 
that teachers can work on that if they do these things they 
boost student achievement by 21st percentile points. The cost 
is almost irrelevant if you are boosting student achievement.
    My question on this is what was the outcome gained? How are 
we measuring that? How were we getting there? Yes, when the 
average cost of a Fortune 500 conference is $1,300 a person and 
yours is $3,300, you got to do better. You have got to think 
about where this is at. And I am not talking about punishing 
your employees or whatever. But it makes sense if you have got 
a health care professional development going on, I would invite 
you to come to Rochester, Minnesota. The rates are cheap in 
January and February. It is at the home of the Mayo Clinic. And 
you will get good things going on. It is that perception that--
--we are not asking people to live in poverty, to live in 
working conditions that don't work. We are just asking to have 
a measurement of what we are getting for this. And my biggest 
fear is it is very hard for us to ask the public to continue to 
justify giving you money for this professional development. And 
we saw it in teaching. Before we started improving our 
outcomes, we ended up cutting back on professional development. 
And guess what happens is in the first 5 years we lose 61 
percent of new teachers. And I would make the argument we don't 
give them the skills to succeed.
    So I would just ask you, Mr. Gould, and I know it is broad 
and it is general, how do we do a better job of back planning 
from the outcome that Dr. Roe was talking about and then 
budgeting accordingly? Because I would make the argument on 
this you might be able to justify $3,300 if you were able to 
reduce processing times by 21 percent over an 18-month period 
because of the training that happened there. I rarely get to 
see what the training did for people. And that is what is hard 
for me to make the case to my employees too. So please, if you 
could, tell me how we address that.
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, thank you. Clearly speaking from 
both your experience as a leader and a teacher, you get that 
vital connection between value, training, and mission outcomes, 
which is exactly what led us to the decision to hold this 
training in the first place. We had simple reasoning, which is 
that a youngster that is a Wounded Warrior lying in a hospital 
wants to know that the doctor that comes by, the nurse, the 
orderly has been trained to do the job that will affect their 
body, their counseling, and their recovery. So we began with a 
simple notion that in order to get the right people in the 
right place at the right time for medical care, we needed human 
resources folks who knew how to recruit, train, retain 
individuals in the first place. We then rewound the tape even 
further. We asked ourself how ready are our people today to 
meet those challenges of hiring the right person at the right 
time and the right place on medical care? The answer was there 
was a deficiency in 24 of 30 competencies that are required to 
do that job well. We designed the program around that. We then 
rolled that out in Orlando. The IG has not questioned the 
legitimacy and value of that training. And we have gone and 
calculated a return on investment, a calculation, a financial 
calculation on the return that our organization has received. 
And we have recovered even more money than we did spend. And 
sir, if I might, just that apples to oranges comparison, we 
have gone and done that analysis as well using ASTD data that 
is available on their Web site and determined that our cost per 
hour per employee was actually less than the private sector 
average. So we are using new technology. We are doing our 
training smart. It is an integral part of our strategy to get 
the kind of mission outcomes that we are both fully committed 
to.
    Mr. Walz. Somehow together then we have got to do a better 
job of articulating that and making sure the public knows.
    Mr. Gould. Yes.
    Mr. Walz. Because all of my colleagues are right, the 
outrage is there. I got in trouble last time over in the GSA 
when I questioned how in the heck could anybody eat a $47 
breakfast. John Stewart corrected me and said in New York City 
it is easy. So I think when you are looking just at the dollar 
amount on this, we need to be careful what we are getting. And 
I think that analysis of cost-benefit analysis for spending and 
improved training and improved at the end of the day quality of 
care to our veterans is a critical piece of this.
    So I am grateful for that, and I appreciate you being here 
again.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, sir. That is the bottom line.
    The Chairman. Dr. Benishek.
    Mr. Benishek. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to quote 
a line from the statement of Mr. Gould. ``As Secretary Shinseki 
said immediately upon the public release of the report, the 
failures outlined in the report represent abdications of 
responsibility, failures of judgment, and serious lapses of 
stewardship.'' And yet when I was listening to your response to 
Mr. Michaud's question, there has been one resignation. And as 
far as I know, nobody else suffered from any of this abdication 
of responsibility, failure of judgment, or serious lapse of 
stewardship. Your answer suggested that there was some sort of 
administrative process that was going on. And yet this was from 
an IG report of 2011, and now it is near the end of 2012. So 
nobody has suffered in over a year since this report is out? 
Everybody is still working on the job despite the abdication of 
responsibility, failure of judgment, and serious lapses of 
stewardship? That is very frustrating to me.
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, if I might just point out that 
while you are correct that the events did occur in July and 
August of 2011, the report was only issued on October 1 of this 
year. So we have the benefits of the IG's insight and review. 
And sir, as you may know, we also have obligations under Title 
V to make sure that once those initial findings are determined 
that we then go through an administrative review process, sift 
through all the data, and make sure that every possible bit of 
information, both problematic and otherwise, is revealed, and 
that each individual has their rights under due process 
respected.
    So this testimony simply catches us at a time when we have 
not completed that work. It will be completed. And there will 
be consequences that come from that if they are warranted and 
if they are upheld. And I just want to say that----
    Mr. Benishek. It is just my experience in the short time I 
have been here is that it seems that people who have problems 
in the VA, and this happened in the Miami hospital colonoscopy 
case where the person who was ultimately responsible was simply 
transferred to another VA. You know, that type of thing doesn't 
breed responsibility, it breeds sort of a bureaucratic 
shuffling of papers. And you know, I just want to be sure that 
somebody who was responsible for this abdication of 
responsibility, failure of judgment, and serious lapses of 
stewardship----
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, if I might, Miami construction 
would be a great example. We had four people suspended. Two 
people are gone from employment at the VA. There were real 
consequences at the VA. My only point, sir, is they take time. 
They have got to be done fairly, they have got to be done well. 
For the employees that are there, they trust us to handle that 
well. But there is accountability, sir. And I can't think of a 
greater accountability than Mr. Sepulveda's resignation, lost 
his job; 3 days notice; wife that doesn't work; and, a 10-year-
old son. That is pretty hard stuff. Now, we are waiting to here 
what happens with the career folks who were involved. But as we 
all know, and I have counsel here that can explain that process 
to you, under Title V there are due process that we have got to 
follow. Had this hearing been held after the new year, we might 
have answers for you at that point. We would certainly be 
willing to share what they are when they occur. But the fact 
that they have not happened is not indicative of any diminished 
level on our part or the Secretary's part that we are 
indignant, that this happened, that there was misconduct. We 
are deeply concerned about that and apologetic, but we are also 
moving on. We have a plan, and we are moving forward.
    Mr. Benishek. I would like to see that report and the 
responsibility efforts----
    Mr. Gould. Yes, sir.
    Mr. Benishek.----as soon as possible. I will yield back the 
remainder of my time.
    The Chairman. Thank you, Dr. Benishek.
    I would like to recognize the gentleman who graduated from 
Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, Mr. 
Green. Thank you for joining us today.
    Mr. Green. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I greatly appreciate 
this opportunity to serve with you today. And I thank the 
Ranking Member as well from Florida, a long time friend. And 
yes, I did graduate from Choctaw. I am amazed that you have 
found that piece of trivia.
    The Chairman. I am on the Intelligence Committee.
    Mr. Green. Well, I thought it might have much to do with 
this thing called the iPad. I just finished Googling you, and 
found quite a few interesting tidbits as well.
    I am honored to be here today, and I am also saddened that 
I am here, because I have the DeBakey VA Center in my 
congressional district. And as you can well imagine, I have a 
kinship with the vets that will transcend, just simply knowing 
that they exist. I frequent the facility. On an annual basis, 
we go in sometime around the Christmas holiday, and we accord 
each veteran a flag. And while it might seem like a very small 
thing, it is something when you see tears well in the eyes of a 
veteran who says you are the first representative of the 
government to come in and say to me, I appreciate you for your 
service. When you do this kind of thing, you develop a special 
kind of bond with people. And when it comes to veterans, I have 
concluded that I am really not a Democrat, I am a person who 
respects people who are willing to risk their lives for us. 
They go to distant places, and they don't always return the way 
they left. And I just believe that we have to do as much as we 
can to assist them. And I am a believer that when it comes to 
these issues we can transcend party lines and work hard for 
them.
    Now, having said this, in terms of my position as a 
neophyte with this Committee, the optics of this are quite 
disturbing. I sense that you are contrite, I sense that you 
want to atone, but I have to let you know the optics are quite 
disturbing. The consternation created by the optics alone can 
cause one to want to make sure that this never happens again. 
And without going into all of the things that occurred, and 
these things have been chronicled quite well, I do want to 
know, and I have heard much of your testimony, but as 
succinctly as you can put it, how do you stop this so it that 
it never, ever happens again, so that we never have to face 
veterans and give explanations about things that they don't 
quite understand? They become very much discombobulated by 
these kinds of things. So how do you give assurance, if you 
will, please, that this would never happen again?
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Green, thank you for that very heartfelt 
remarks. I share that view with you, that partisanship should 
stop at the water's edge. And we hope it does under the 
Secretary's leadership at the VA and before this Committee.
    So simply put, briefly put, how does this never happen 
again? First of all, it is a recognition that there is a 
problem. We have recognized that publicly. We need a plan to 
implement, to follow through at every stage to make sure that 
this does not happen again. We have such a plan. It is 
published. We are working to implement it now. And we need to 
communicate effectively to our employees the tremendous 
responsibility that they bear when they take public resources 
and focus on service to veterans, that every step of the way 
our oversight processes are functioning and we are willing to 
follow up. At the same time, we do not want that desire to 
bring the ability of our field personnel to their knees 
providing paperwork and reports over and over again. So we are 
looking to find that balance, sir, between clear, decisive 
oversight and the ability to continue the training which just 
about everybody in the room today has recognized we have got to 
have, we have to do well in the future.
    Mr. Green. Mr. Chairman, you have been very generous. I do 
greatly thank you, and look forward to continuing to serve with 
you and the Ranking Member.
    Ms. Brown. Would you yield----
    Mr. Green. I will yield.
    Ms. Brown.----your 9 seconds? Thank you very much for 
joining this Committee, coming in today. At the beginning you 
said that you were speaking not as a Democrat or Republican. I 
have always felt that this Committee wasn't a Democratic 
Committee or a Republican Committee. In the past, we have been 
an American Committee. And we work together for the good of the 
veterans. Just for your information, sometimes I am confused by 
some of the directions, but we don't have time for some of the 
stuff that goes on in other Committees on this Committee. I 
serve on this Committee because I really feel that the veterans 
have served their time, they have paid their dues, and we owe 
something to them.
    Mr. Green. Thank you very much. I have been properly 
edified.
    Ms. Brown. Thank you.
    The Chairman. Thank you for joining us today.
    Mr. Stutzman.
    Mr. Stutzman. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I want to thank 
the panel for being here. I would like to, Mr. Chairman, if I 
could, talk about a local issue in Fort Wayne just a little 
bit, and the communication problems that we have had at the 
Fort Wayne Veterans Hospital. Congressman, now Senator-elect 
Donnelly and I, and Senator Coats have had conversations with 
the administration at the local level at the VA, and also have 
asked for an IG investigation of some of the problems that we 
have had there. And to me, the reason I want to bring this up 
is it seems to be systemic as far as communication from top to 
bottom. And you know, whether you are a 450-employee entity or 
whether you are a 300,000, it doesn't matter. Systems have to 
work. If it is too large, then something needs to change. And 
the situation that has happened with the Fort Wayne facility is 
that there were positions that were not being filled. Then 
there was retirements. Then there was a person that had to be 
let go. And all of a sudden you don't have a staff at the 
facility, and we had to close down, the VA closed down several 
of the services provided to our veterans. And I mean you can 
imagine what that does to the veteran community in northeast 
Indiana, that it creates a lot of uncertainty, a lot of 
skepticism. And we in our congressional offices were not even 
notified of the closing. At first we were told that it was a 
closing to upgrade facilities, do some remodeling. And once Mr. 
Donnelly and I had a phone conversation, we found out that it 
was really due to staffing problems. And to me, this is just--
--it is unacceptable that things can go on this long to that 
point where all of a sudden we portray to the general public 
that we are just going to close the facilities down so that way 
we can upgrade the facilities when there is a larger systemic 
problem behind the scenes where positions are not being filled. 
And within such a large organization, I find it unacceptable 
that those positions can't be filled in a timely manner. And 
with the veterans seeing and not having services provided to 
them because of this closing, what does that say to the 
community? The local facilities are the face of the VA. And 
that is where the services are to be provided.
    I would just like, first of all, you to know our situation 
and, that Mr. Donnelly and I have asked for an investigation on 
why this has taken place. But how can these things be stopped? 
And how can these things be communicated better to our offices 
rather than us calling you? You know, could you be calling us 
and saying this is what is happening? Because it just doesn't 
go over well with myself, and it doesn't go over well in the 
community.
    Any comments?
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, Congressman. And you all are leaders 
in your community. Folks come to you with problems, and this is 
part of our process at work. We hear from Members, we hear from 
the media, we hear from our own data collection all across the 
country. We learn that there are problems and we take action on 
them. Our paramount responsibility is the safety and service, 
the health of our veterans. And when we encounter a situation 
where we feel that there are inadequate staff or there is some 
problem with the volume of people that are using surgery 
services and the like, we will take action to make sure that we 
protect those veterans and provide them with another access 
point for services.
    And to your point, this is an example where having people, 
good people in the right place at the right time with the right 
skills is critical to being able to operate the largest direct 
health care system in the country. That is why in Orlando, 
Florida, we were focused on making sure that the HR specialists 
who hire those individuals in the first place, to make sure 
that those positions are filled. I couldn't think of a better 
example of how critical the connection is between HR 
specialists and adequate personnel in the field. And your 
experience at the pointy end of the spear an example where we 
don't have enough people in position. Part of the reason for 
that is we don't have the systems yet in place to be able to 
make sure that every single position across the country is 
filled when it needs to be filled. And that is our goal to do 
that.
    Mr. Stutzman. I just find it unacceptable that we close 
services because we don't have staff in place. If a Parkview 
Hospital in Fort Wayne or if a Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne 
did the same thing, they would lose patients. And the veterans 
don't have another place to go. And for this to happen is 
unacceptable.
    Thank you all. I will return the balance.
    Mr. Gould. Sir, if I might just say it, I accept the notion 
that it is unacceptable that our veterans don't get services 
that they have earned and deserve. I would point this out, that 
safety is our number one priority. We would never want to 
administer a service that we didn't feel we were prepared for. 
And for each one of those individuals involved, we are out 
there in the communities, purchase care if required, or sending 
them. It is a little bit less convenient, but the access is 
there.
    Mr. Stutzman. Absolutely. I agree, I think safety is the 
number one concern. But at the same time, we have to have 
foresight in making sure that these services are provided, and 
not because of a staffing problem that all of a sudden we have 
to close facilities down.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, sir.
    Mr. Stutzman. Thank you. I will yield back.
    The Chairman. Ms. Brown.
    Ms. Brown. Thank you. First of all, thank you, Mr. 
Chairman, concerning that issue in Miami as far as that clinic, 
the hospital I guess, that we were able to get the moneys to 
complete that operation facility. So I want to thank you.
    And my question, I guess is to piggyback on what he was 
saying, the amount of time that it takes for us to hire let's 
say a VA nurse, or the amount of time we are losing it to the 
private sector because of the amount of time, I don't quite 
understand what is the problem. We could have a qualified 
person that is a doctor in one area, and you need that service 
in another area, and it could take a year to get them 
transferred.
    So can you tell us a little about that? And then of course 
I want to know about the facility in Orlando. I am getting 
personal and local. But when will that hospital open? And have 
we straightened out some of the----I have toured it with the 
Chairman, and there have been many news stories about it. Part 
of the facility is complete and it is just sitting there. So 
can you give me a status report on the Orlando facility?
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am. I will try to address all three 
points that you raised. First, to thank you for a great example 
of this Committee working together to fix a problem. Miami was 
a great example. Both the Secretary and I extend our 
appreciation for what you did here. We now have construction 
moving forward. And we expect it will be completed by the third 
quarter of this year.
    Shifting quickly to Orlando, beautiful facilities, partly 
constructed, ready to go. Another part, the hospital that has 
grabbed the headlines, is not in position yet. This is a top 
priority for us to resolve. I can share with you that the 
current extended contract completion date is July of 2013. We 
recognize that we are in a series of very sensitive contractor 
negotiations right now, but we have directed the contractor to 
provide a revised schedule to meet the current extended 
contract completion date due to VA the first of the week in 
December. That is next week. So we will be getting a reply from 
the contractor. Responsibility now rests with the contractor to 
make improvements to the work processes and to fulfill contract 
requirements.
    So we are moving forward, Congresswoman Brown. We are 
moving forward, and we are expecting presently a completion 
date of July 2013.
    Ms. Brown. Just one thing. I don't understand, and I hope 
as we move forward when we give the VA all of the money up 
front, $615 million or what else, why is it that it takes so 
long to get these projects done? We have a lot of veterans that 
are elderly and they need the facilities. And I don't know why 
we don't have a what is it, design-build, or, you know, I am 
not an engineer. But we should be able to get it done. And it 
shouldn't take----July, I wanted it open this October----
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am.
    Ms. Brown.----before the November elections, by the way.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am. And I can understand why. It was 
obviously a desire we shared, too, to do this as quickly as we 
can. I think one of the specific challenges here is getting the 
design documents fully up to speed, making sure that you are 
ordering the equipment in advance so that they don't get there 
and sit in a warehouse, but the warranties are still in place 
when you go ahead and install that. And as the Chairman knows, 
we have had some challenges on the contract side. So both VA 
responsibilities and I would argue contractor responsibilities 
together creating the delay. What I am reporting to you here 
today before this Committee is that we now have a new deadline 
in front of the contractor. They have an obligation to respond 
to us. I would like to see them get a lot more folks there 
working faster to get this done.
    And earlier, ma'am, you raised the issue of how do we 
compete effectively with, you know, getting the nurses and so 
on? And one of the reasons why we made this investment in HR 
training is again the criticality, you can see how our HR folks 
do is directly related to our ability to compete for our fair 
share of the best and brightest in the nursing community, vital 
to our ability to deliver health care. And so one of the 
reasons why we held the Orlando training conference is to 
address that issue, how to help them be better in hiring, 
training, and retaining nursing staff, among others, across our 
system. So this is critically important that we continue to do 
this training.
    Ms. Brown. Well, I understand we are going to have 
something like 1,800 positions in that Orlando area. And you 
know, to me we don't have to wait until we open up. We could 
partner with you are right there with the University of Central 
Florida, other organizations and groups, private sectors. We 
could have the training, we could have people when we open the 
door ready to go. And there are other facilities there that we 
could----and maybe you can't. But it doesn't make any sense 
that we have those homeless facilities and those other 
facilities sitting there and we are not doing anything until 
July of next year.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, ma'am. Just two quick points on that. Our 
belief is that every single veteran in that community is 
getting the service that they need today. What we both want is 
that it be in a beautiful new state of the art facility. And we 
can't wait to make that happen. But those veterans are getting 
services. They are getting services in different locations now. 
And we want them into the new facility just as quickly as we 
can in Orlando.
    Ms. Brown. I will continue to monitor it, and I yield back 
the balance of my time.
    The Chairman. Thank you very much. I share your concerns on 
the completion date for the Orlando facility as well.
    Mr. Runyan.
    Mr. Runyan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Deputy Secretary, 
thank you for your testimony today. And I agree with Mr. Green, 
the optics of this reek. Now, to go on to what my friend Mr. 
Walz was saying, and I bring this point up no matter who from 
the VA is here usually. And we talk about metrics. And we talk 
about numbers. And to Mr. Walz's point, you know, there is 
value to it. It is value added to it. But you bring up----I 
just want to put this. In your testimony, you had 73 percent of 
supervisors said that their people that work under them felt 
more motivated, 87 percent learned new skills, and 74 percent 
were more productive. Okay. Outcome. First of all, what was the 
baseline that was measured against? And a number in the 70th 
percentile, what was wrong with the last training session? I 
find it mind-boggling for somebody to grow 70 percent. Where 
did we drop the ball in the last session to get to this massive 
amount of growth? And it just comes to these things I think 
most of us, like we said with the case of Mr. Walz, we can 
validate it if we have valid metrics. But where are we coming 
up with these numbers? Because 70 percent improvement, it seems 
great. But when you step back and look at it from past numbers, 
we are dropping the ball somewhere. And we have to figure that 
out. Can you kind of lead me there? Is there a baseline you 
measured that from? At the end of the day, it is something 
Secretary Shinseki talks about is accountability. And growth 
like that is tremendous. But where did you drop the ball 
previous to that?
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, sir, for the question. I think 
perhaps one of the most troubling aspects of the training that 
we found ourselves in need of delivering to our HR specialists 
is that it hadn't happened in years. So imagine an organization 
of almost 4,000 people focused on the kinds of important 
mission-oriented hiring, training, retaining personnel, and not 
to have been out on the football field and had some walk-
throughs and some training. So we failed them. We let them 
down. Now, what we did apply was state of the art measurement 
for return on investment and training. It consists of four 
parts. First part is student in the class at the end, was the 
training good? Yes or no. Student again takes a test. Did you 
get something out of it? Can we see that in measurable terms? 
Third thing, individual gets back to their supervisor, we asked 
the supervisor do you see a difference in performance? A year 
later we come back, we asked the question did you see 
performance in the mission? That is what we are after. We are 
after that level of accountability. It is that measurement 
process that resulted in our return on investment analysis, and 
why I am so fully committed to continuing to do this training. 
We will get better at the metrics piece. I would argue we are 
doing it to standard, to an industry standard right now.
    Mr. Runyan. And I will just leave you with this comment, 
now that you brought up my past career. You know, you have the 
saying that practice makes perfect. And I would argue that 
perfect practice makes perfect. I have never had a perfect 
practice, never played a perfect game. But if you are not 
striving for perfection in the practice, when it comes to 
execution of those skills you are never going to be there.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you so much. I believe we have employees 
that are really trying to do that. And as you say, nobody has 
ever had a perfect practice. This is a case where we didn't 
execute perfectly. There were mistakes. We have acknowledged 
them. And what we have done is we have put a plan in place to 
try to avoid that in the future.
    Mr. Runyan. Thank you. Chairman, I yield back.
    The Chairman. Mr. Michaud, you have any follow up?
    Mr. Michaud. Yes. Mr. Gould, will the VA provide the 
Committee with a copy of the July 2012 report examining the 
impact of the VBA training program as referenced in your 
testimony? I think that will get to some of Congressman Walz's 
earlier questions. If you can provide that.
    Mr. Gould. I will.

    [The information appears in the Appendix]

    Mr. Michaud. Also, you mentioned the need to deploy highly 
trained veterans service representatives and rating specialists 
to regional offices in order to eliminate the backlog. You 
talked about that in your testimony. How many have already been 
deployed and where? And will there be additional VSRs and RVSRs 
that will be deployed? And where will they be deployed? If you 
don't have the answers to the last two questions, if you can 
provide it for the Committee.
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Michaud, thank you for that invitation. I 
would say I will provide that information to you. I would say 
quickly, that training is a key part of our strategy to get the 
claims backlog down. You can't make that kind of progress and 
ask people to do new things without training them how to do it.
    Mr. Michaud. Great. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Mr. 
Chairman.
    The Chairman. Mr. Huelskamp.
    Mr. Huelskamp. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I appreciate the 
opportunity to ask some questions at this point in the 
responses or lack of responses. And we will go through a few of 
those. It has been 106 days since I asked some of these 
questions, and have received a response to only one of those. 
But let me go through those for the Committee.
    I have asked the Department a number of the following 
things. First of all, will you provide a list of attendees at 
the July 2011 conference in Orlando? Will you provide a list of 
attendees at the August conference in Orlando? Will you provide 
a list of individuals involved in planning these conferences? 
Did Mr. Sepulveda receive a severance package or exit bonus?
    The VA stated that employees had misused taxpayer dollars. 
What exactly does it mean when you say they will be held 
accountable? Will you provide the names and titles of employees 
who are being held accountable? Will you provide a complete 
detailed list of all expenditures for the 2011 Golden Age 
Games? Will you provide a list of those who actually attended 
the games? Will you provide a list of individuals involved in 
planning the games? Will you provide the number of veterans who 
attended the games? Will you provide a list of each advance 
trip to Hawaii ahead of the games? Will you tell us how much 
you spent on these advance trips? Will you provide a list of 
the staff attending these advance trips? Will you provide a 
complete list of all event planners used for the games and 
amounts paid for the VA services? And then what was the exact 
process through which Alaska Destination Specialists was 
selected to provide event planning services?
    Now, of these 15 questions I want you to provide at least 
an indication for me of why you have refused to answer all of 
these.
    Mr. Gould. Mr. Huelskamp, just listening you to go through 
that list is instructive I think for everybody sitting here. 
First of all, your commitment to doing oversight and doing it 
well, we respect and appreciate. But just going through that 
list, you can see that times every Member on this Committee and 
the Senate and the House side that it might be a bit 
challenging to field all those. What we are doing is working 
very diligently to respond to each of those. If I am not 
mistaken, some that you mentioned have already been responded 
to. So was it your intent to say that none of those had been 
responded to or that some had and some had not?
    Mr. Huelskamp. You might be confused, but those were all 
ignored, some of them for 106 days. Do you know the individuals 
that helped plan the Golden Age Games? Do you know that answer?
    Mr. Gould. I do not know who----
    Mr. Huelskamp. Does anybody know over there who planned the 
games?
    Mr. Gould. Sir, we will certainly find that information 
out.
    Mr. Huelskamp. When will you find it out? In another 106 
days? You want to wait 106 days? These are simple questions. 
And I don't want to be brutal here, but this is not an issue of 
perception, this is an issue of competence. This is an issue of 
competence, the failure to either know the answer or refuse to 
answer them. It is not about me personally, it is about 700,000 
constituents that want an answer. It is about a gentleman in 
Syracuse, Kansas, who had to drive 522 miles to the nearest VA 
Hospital. In that time you can fly folks to Orlando for a great 
conference. And you won't even tell me who they are. You won't 
even tell the American people who attended, who planned those 
conferences. How do you hold folks accountable for the budget 
when you won't even tell us what the budget was? Was there a 
budget for these conferences? I will ask Ms. Anderson that 
question. Was there a budget for these conferences? I am asking 
Ms. Anderson the question, who raised that. Ms. Anderson, if 
you can answer that question. Is there a budget for these 
conferences? Was there?
    Ms. Anderson. Which conference are you referring to?
    Mr. Huelskamp. Well, how many you have ever had in 2011 
that apparently we are still trying to figure out. You claim 
that you are going to hold folks accountable if they exceeded 
the budget. Was there an actual stated budget for these 
conferences?
    Ms. Anderson. I was referring to the new policy. And I 
think Mr. Grams could address the budget issue on conferences. 
I think he has done that in the testimony, that we don't budget 
conferences.
    Mr. Huelskamp. Thank you for answering that question. But 
Mr. Grams sat there on September 20. As the CFO, I asked 
numerous budget questions, and never once, Mr. Grams, did you 
offer any information, any indication of what the answer is. We 
are trying to answer. These are not complex questions. Who 
went? I don't know. One hundred six days later. I think, again, 
this is an issue of incompetence or failure to disclose. Either 
you are trying to hide something or it is total incompetence. 
This is unacceptable. I know the Committee has asked question 
after question after question. We see new things, more 
questions come up every time you might answer one of those. But 
those are 15 outstanding questions. But in particular there is 
one in particular that really grates many folks is you spent a 
million dollars to hire somebody in Alaska to run the Golden 
Age Games and plan that. Was that a bid process? Was that 
competitively bid to spend a million dollars for someone to run 
the Golden Age Games? That planner exceeded the cost of every 
other game before that, I believe.
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, it strikes me that you may not have 
been here at the beginning of the testimony when I did answer 
more thoroughly what is going on with respect to our 
responsiveness. Number one----
    Mr. Huelskamp. No, I can catch that. Answer the question. 
The question is a million dollars. Was that a competitively bid 
contract?
    Mr. Gould. I would like to answer your question, sir, if 
you will allow me. Just give me a minute, and I will----
    Mr. Huelskamp. I waited 106 days. Go ahead. I can wait 
another----
    Mr. Gould. We understand we have an obligation to respond 
to Congress through its appropriate oversight, number one. 
Number two, we have delivered truck loads of information. In 
the specific example of PPV, 35,000 documents, 6,000 policy 
questions, 100 hearings, 1,100 staff briefings. Sir, you can 
sit here and shake your head, but the reality is that there is 
a tremendous amount of information that flows to this Committee 
and others on a daily basis by a very competent team at VA.
    Now, there are items on your list that we have yet to 
respond to, but we will. You have my firm commitment that we 
will do that. We have directed our Assistant Secretary for 
Congressional Affairs. We have gathered teams of people to go 
through emails and data and records. What may sound simple is 
in fact quite complex. And when we come into environments like 
this, and there is an edge to litigate on each issue, you can 
expect us to go through that with a great deal of care so that 
we can provide accurate information to the Committee. So I just 
ask----
    Mr. Huelskamp. But you didn't answer the question. Did you 
answer the question? No, you didn't. Could you answer the 
question I just asked?
    Mr. Gould. You just asked me are we going to respond to 
those requests? My answer is yes.
    Mr. Huelskamp. No, I asked you was the contract for the 
event planner in Alaska for the Golden Age Games in Hawaii, was 
that a competitively bid contract?
    Mr. Gould. I would be happy to provide that information to 
you.
    Mr. Huelskamp. Does anybody here know? Mr. Grams, do you 
know? A million dollar contract. Do you know the answer? You 
are the CFO.
    Mr. Grams. Yes, sir, I am the CFO. The question you are 
asking is in the VA pool, but it is not in my swim lane. It is 
an acquisitions question.
    Mr. Huelskamp. Do you have any of your staff here that can 
answer that? That is just one question that I ask a specific 
answer.
    Mr. Gould. Congressman, you have asked. It is on your list. 
We will provide that information to you. I want to do that 
accurately.
    Mr. Huelskamp. I will make it part of the official record. 
And you have any idea how long it would take to figure that 
out? It is just one phone call I would guess.
    Mr. Gould. Sir, one among thousands.
    Mr. Huelskamp. When will you answer it?
    Mr. Gould. Respectfully, we will get that information to 
you as accurately and as quickly as we can.
    Mr. Huelskamp. Oh, as you wish. It is one phone call. Thank 
you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
    Mr. Gould. Thank you, sir.
    The Chairman. Mr. Gould, in August you provided us, the VA 
provided the Committee a list of what was supposed to be all VA 
conferences held from 2005 to date. In looking at the 
information that was provided, it showed that some major 
conferences, including many of the senior VHA leadership 
conferences, were left off of the list. We have been asking, 
through the Committee staff, for the information on those 
missing conferences since October 4, information that I would 
think would be readily available.
    So my question to you, are you aware that certain 
conferences were omitted from the list that was provided to 
this Committee?
    Mr. Gould. No, sir, I was not. It goes to the point of the 
need to submit accurate information to the Committee and, as we 
just discussed, the need to be careful, to exercise due 
diligence on that point.
    The Chairman. I find it a little confusing that we should 
be getting to a much smaller pool, if you will, of conferences 
with VHA and leadership. So I would think it would be a much 
smaller number of answers. So much like Mr. Huelskamp, I would 
hope that we could get a response to that soon. But 
interestingly enough, because we hadn't gotten that 
information, we have been, as you might expect, perusing VA's 
new media, Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. And the VA's 
own Facebook account showed in 2010 that a senior VHA 
management conference was held at the Venetian hotel in Las 
Vegas. And I just am trying to figure out why it was left off 
of the list that was provided to the Committee.
    Mr. Gould. Sir, I don't have any explanation other than 
that there are literally thousands, since 2005, of conferences. 
We have a lot of work do to pore through information and data. 
We are doing our best to get it to this Committee. And we 
recognize fully that you have a right to it. We want to make 
sure that it is accurate when it is provided.
    The Chairman. Just again, we had asked for all VA 
conferences that were held from 2005 to date. So if you would 
take that for the record as well.
    I would ask if any other Members have any other questions. 
Mr. Flores?
    Mr. Flores. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would like to go 
ahead and close the loop on where we were going before. But 
before I do that, let me start here. This is a quick question. 
Can we get a copy of the September 16 revised conference policy 
for the record?
    Mr. Gould. Yes, sir.

    [The information appears in the Appendix]

    Mr. Flores. Okay. Very good. I want to go back to what Mr. 
Walz and Dr. Roe were saying. And it has to do with culture. I 
agree with Dr. Roe, whether the organization has four employees 
or 320,000 employees, if you get the right culture you can have 
fewer policies, you can have fewer procedures and so forth. If 
employees are properly disciplined because they don't exercise 
the proper amount of gray matter in making a decision, then the 
other employees are not damaged, their reputations aren't hurt 
in the process. So what we have here at the VA is a situation 
where a few folks made really bad decisions. And it has sort of 
impugned the reputation of the other 320-some-odd thousand that 
are out there working hard for our vets. That is not what we 
want to have happen to any of our folks. The reason this is so 
critically important to me is because in my district, in the 
Waco VA regional office, we have got the worst claims 
processing record in the country. That is not directly on point 
with what we are talking about here today. However, a vet sees 
the VA as the VA, all of it, whether it is wasting money on a 
Dash Dawson video or whether it is spending millions of dollars 
to go to Orlando, or to stay at the Venetian, or whatever. They 
see this waste, they see their grandchildren's money being 
borrowed from the Chinese because people are making classically 
bad decisions.
    So I want to come back to the question I had before. Under 
the new policy that you are going to have, if an employee is 
found to have violated either statute or policy or procedure, 
are you going to discipline and/or fire that employee? Yes or 
no.
    Mr. Gould. Sir, you know that I am constrained just a 
little bit by law on my answer here. Let me answer personally 
and then in my formal role. On a personal basis, should there 
be accountability for this behavior? You betcha. In my 
professional role I have an unbending obligation to make sure 
that the individuals involved have due process.
    Mr. Flores. Yeah, I didn't say----I wasn't taking away due 
process. Assuming you have gone through due process and you 
have found that they violated statute, policy, procedure, are 
they going to be disciplined? Are the American people going to 
know that they----is the taxpayer going to know they were 
treated fairly? And is the veteran going to know that they were 
treated fairly out of this process?
    Mr. Gould. I believe they will. And sir, you started out 
just a moment ago with perception. And I agree with you most 
strongly that a few have tarnished the reputation of the many. 
But when we started off this hearing we had pictures put on the 
flat screen around the room. And it included pictures of a 
vacation in Italy. What was implied is that something untoward 
had happened here, that public funds had been used, that this 
was a junket paid for by government. Now, we have been doing a 
little bit of research as I have been sitting here, and this 
was a personal vacation. And it shouldn't have been posted on 
the Web site, but no VA funds were used. I think that we need 
to think carefully when we talk about culture that there are 
320,000 hardworking employees at VA that don't like having 
their reputation damaged and sullied by this kind of activity. 
That explains why we take so seriously the problems, and we are 
dead set on fixing them. But at the same time, we have got to 
hold onto the idea of their reputations and hard work in this 
process.
    The Chairman. Mr. Flores, if you would yield for just a 
minute.
    Mr. Flores. Yes, sir.
    The Chairman. Mr. Gould.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, Mr. Chairman.
    The Chairman. Why was it on VA's official Facebook page?
    Mr. Gould. Clearly, an individual must have posted it 
there. We will get to the bottom of that.
    The Chairman. Is that correct, should it have been or not?
    Mr. Gould. We will get to that. No, my view is that it 
shouldn't have been on the Web site. It will be taken down 
immediately.
    The Chairman. It already was taken down. The minute that we 
brought it up it disappeared.
    Mr. Gould. Terrific. But sir, I hope you understand that 
putting that kind of information up is a slap at the employees 
who work at VA every day. And respectfully, sir----
    The Chairman. Mr. Gould, let me tell you something. No, no. 
No, no. You and I had a very civil conversation yesterday 
afternoon.
    Mr. Gould. Yes, we did.
    The Chairman. I have not one time slapped at any of the 
300,000 VA employees. I have slapped at the leadership. And 
your responses in the last 15 minutes have just raised what we 
call the hackles on the back of my neck again. The truce is 
over. It lasted less than 24 hours. Expect much more oversight 
from this Committee. Don't you ever accuse a Democrat or a 
Republican on this Committee of slapping any of the hardworking 
300,000 VA employees. Rest assured it is the leadership that we 
are concerned with. And with that, expect more questions from 
this Committee, this hearing this morning for the record, 
because they are coming in great volumes.
    This hearing is adjourned.

    [Whereupon, at 12:10 p.m., the Committee was adjourned.]



                            A P P E N D I X

                              ----------                              

               Prepared Statement of Chairman Jeff Miller
    Good morning, this hearing will come to order.
    We are here to examine, in detail, VA's conference spending, 
particularly following the VA Inspector General's report highlighting 
the wasteful spending that occurred at HR conferences in Orlando, 
Florida in 2011. We will also examine VA's response to Congress 
regarding its conference spending. Fundamentally, this hearing is about 
accountability . . . accountability to veterans, to taxpayers, and to 
this oversight Committee. I am concerned on all fronts. Let me briefly 
share the reason why.
    On August 16, 2012, the Ranking Member and I sent a letter to the 
Secretary asking a series of questions related to VA's conference 
spending. In that letter we referenced the conflicting testimony we 
received over the course of the 112th Congress regarding VA's total 
expenditures. First we were told $20 million was spent in FY2011 on 
conferences; then we were told it was a little over $100 million; 
finally we were told that no accurate, reliable figure on conference 
expenditures exists. Because of these discrepancies, we asked for 
clarification of VA's total conference spending for that year and prior 
years, as well as a breakdown of all individual conferences.
    Rather than receiving a coherent response clearly explaining these 
discrepancies and answering all of the questions we posed, VA produced 
a data dump of information to the Committee under the cover of a letter 
by Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Joan 
Mooney, on August 24, 2012. Even though I discussed what I believed was 
the lack of a response to our letter at the Committee's September 25, 
2012, hearing, we were not informed by Ms. Mooney until a week later 
that her letter, and the information provided along with it, served as 
the Secretary's official response.
    But even assuming what was provided in August was the Secretary's 
official response, our questions still weren't answered. And those 
questions that were answered conflicted with prior VA testimony. For 
example, when we tallied up the total VA conference expenditures for 
FY2011 based on the information VA provided it came to $86.5 million. 
This represents the fourth answer provided to the Committee this 
Congress on VA conference spending in FY2011: First $20 million; then 
over $100 million; then no reliable number; and now $86.5 million.
    The confusion over what VA's actual conference spending is reminds 
me of the Inspector General's report on the Orlando conferences in 
which they found VA's reported expenditures were wrong. Absent any 
clear response, I am left to wonder whether VA, at best, has no 
reliable controls on its spending or, at worst, is hiding something 
from this Committee. I plan to get into this more during questioning.
    Further, after reading that VA Chief of Staff John Gingrich would, 
going forward, be approving all overseas travel on behalf of VA, I 
asked staff to inquire about VA's spending on foreign travel. I wanted 
to know how much was spent on overseas trips over the last three years, 
what the purposes of the trips were, and who attended. This 
straightforward request was made in late August and repeated multiple 
times. Yet I still have no answers.
    I have no answers which would help us understand whether the 
pictures posted on the VA Canteen Service's Twitter feed and Facebook 
page of a European field trip, which everyone can see here [point to 
television monitor], represents evidence of a boondoggle or not. At 
best, these are pictures of a privately funded vacation posted on a 
government Facebook page. At worst, this was a taxpayer financed trip 
with no known legitimate purpose. The point is that if VA refuses to 
respond timely to requests for information, we have no way of knowing 
except by exercising the extraordinary step of the Committee issuing 
subpoenas.
    Unfortunately, lengthy delays or not responding to requests at all 
has become the norm. I have asked staff to compile a list of all 
outstanding requests I or my staff has made since our accountability 
hearing in September. Of the 91 total requests of VA made by letter, 
email, over the phone, or in meetings, VA has only answered 16 of them. 
75 requests are outstanding and 66 of those are either past two weeks 
old or beyond VA's agreed date of delivery. In a touch of irony, VA's 
testimony for this hearing was almost 8 hours late.
    We clearly have a problem here and I intend to get to the bottom of 
it, both with respect to conference spending and VA's relationship with 
this oversight Committee. As an aside, I asked Ms. Mooney to testify 
today regarding these and other matters but was told she would be on 
vacation. She said that all of her official actions could be addressed 
by the Deputy Secretary in her absence. Mr. Gould, I trust you are 
prepared for that.
    I yield now to the Ranking Member.
    Before I yield to the Deputy Secretary for his opening statement 
I'd like to ask the panel to rise and raise their right hands so they 
can be sworn in. Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and 
nothing but the truth? Thank you. Please be seated.

                                 
               Prepared Statement of Hon. Corrine Brown, 
                    Acting Ranking Democratic Member
    Good morning everyone, and thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding 
this hearing on VA's conference spending. I'm sure our veterans and the 
American people are anxiously waiting to hear from the VA about the two 
multimillion-dollar conferences.
    This is not the first scandal involving lavish conference spending 
by a Federal agency. The General Services Administration (GSA) spent 
more than $800,000 at a Las Vegas conference in which they paid $6,000 
for commemorative coins, $58,000 for audio-visual services, $146,000 on 
food, and included a clown and mind reader, a yearbook. At the time, we 
thought this was an example of outrageous and wasteful spending.
    GSA was supposed to ensure good stewardship of the taxpayer dollar 
and be the prime model of transparent government for other agencies, 
but it failed miserably, primarily because it did not have adequate 
oversight over its own policies and procedures.
    Unfortunately, not long after their debacle, we learned about the 
VA's own conference indiscretions. By now we are all too familiar with 
the details; reportedly two lavish VA training conferences that cost 
over $6 million dollars and included the now famous Patton parody 
videos, unnecessary promotional items, travel expenses, and much more.
    Our witnesses today may not have been involved in the conference's 
financial and planning decisions, but they were in positions of 
authority to approve the conference budget. I truly hope that these two 
conferences are not just the tip of an iceberg of misjudgment and 
wasteful spending, but rather, are found to be two isolated incidents 
from which the agency can learn.
    We already know that VA's processes, and the oversight mechanisms 
that were in place were insufficient, and that management failed to 
review and monitor the expenses of the conferences. The question is, 
how do we fix that? And how do we ensure that it doesn't happen again? 
We are looking to be assured that, going forward, VA senior leadership 
approaches spending taxpayer dollars with the same care and attention 
they would approach spending their own money.
    The Department of Veterans Affairs Office Inspector General report, 
Administrative Investigation of the FY2011 Human Resources Conferences 
in Orlando, Florida, identified several problem areas and outlined 
recommendations. Following the report, Secretary Shinseki agreed with 
the recommendations, and his Chief of Staff, Mr. Gingrich, took 
responsibility for his role in allowing these excesses. Therefore, I 
hope that today's hearing will focus on how the VA will modify their 
procedures and implement policies to establish budgetary control and 
ensure that future conference budgets are appropriate.
    I look forward to hearing today's testimony. Thank you and I yield 
back.

                                 
                  Prepared Statement of W. Scott Gould
INTRODUCTION
    Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Distinguished Members 
of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs: thank you for the 
opportunity to be with you today to discuss VA's commitment to 
transparency, oversight, and the training of its employees to deliver 
the highest quality service to our Nation's Veterans, family members, 
and survivors, while ensuring accountability. I want to thank the 
Committee for their ongoing partnership in our common commitment to 
serve our Nation's Veterans.
    I know that many of you are especially interested in talking about 
VA training conferences--about the issues identified by the VA 
Inspector General (IG), and about what our department is doing to 
ensure that such issues do not occur again.
    At a time when the physical, mental, and emotional health needs of 
our Veterans are so acute, and when the demands on VA health budgets 
are so great, there is no justification for the spending of public 
funds outside the legitimate needs and missions of this department.
    The IG report on the 2011 Human Resources and Administration (HRA) 
conferences in Orlando identified several examples of such wasteful 
expenditures. To call the report findings deeply disappointing would be 
an understatement. As Secretary Shinseki said immediately upon the 
public release of the report, the failures outlined in the report 
represent abdications of responsibility, failures of judgment, and 
serious lapses of stewardship.
    VA's mission--to serve our Veterans--must be at the core of our 
work all the time, including when we are planning, attending, and 
managing training conferences.
ORLANDO HR CONFERENCES
    The VA's HRA held two training events for VA employees in Orlando 
during the summer of 2011 featuring nearly 100 classes and workshops. 
The training was required to address gaps in the capabilities of HR 
employees that were identified in 2010. HR employee performance is 
important because they make sure that the right people are hired and 
trained - people who will directly deliver health care and benefits to 
Veterans. The evidence gathered suggests that these sessions had 
significant return on investment. One year later, 74 percent of the 
responding supervisors of conference participants agreed or strongly 
agreed that the attendees had been more productive on the job following 
the conference, and 73 percent agreed or strongly agreed that their 
employees were more motivated at work as a result of participating in 
the conference.
    More significantly, 78 percent of responding supervisors of 
conference attendees reported that they had seen evidence that their 
employees had used new skills or knowledge on the job as a result of 
conference attendance. Seventy percent of supervisors stated that their 
employees' job performance had improved after the conferences. We must 
factor these results into our assessment of these training conferences 
and improve on them in the future, even as we redouble our efforts to 
prevent the kinds of issues described in the IG report.
    VA is aggressively addressing the execution and oversight failures 
outlined in the IG report. This includes taking appropriate action with 
regard to personnel found to be responsible for those failures, as well 
as establishing new policies and procedures, which are discussed in 
more detail below, to help ensure that such failures do not occur 
again. Regarding IG recommendations relating to named career employees, 
to ensure due process, the Secretary has appointed senior officials to 
review evidence of wrongdoing and to recommend and take appropriate 
administrative action. Much of this testimony will be devoted to 
discussing these new policies and procedures in greater detail.
IMPROVEMENTS IN OVERSIGHT
    It is VA policy to determine whether the Department will see a 
quantifiable improvement in operations for investments in training. As 
part of that approval process, offices must prepare a detailed business 
case analysis. They must also ensure that the conference or training 
event is part of a rational strategy to develop VA employees' skill 
sets in the optimum way. The requirement to measure outcomes for 
training events has enabled us to capture and evaluate 
performanceperformance data that will lead to more relevant and focused 
training.
    Since January 2009, VA has issued several increasingly restrictive 
policies regarding the planning and execution of training conferences. 
In August 2011, the Department began requiring all offices to submit 
for approval any training event or conference attended by 50 or more 
employees. Additionally, VA issued several memoranda and regulations 
incorporating Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance on 
training conference planning and execution.
    On September 21, 2011, OMB issued Memorandum 11-35, ``Eliminating 
Excess Conference Spending and Promoting Efficiency in Government,'' 
which instructed all agencies ``to conduct a thorough review of the 
policies and controls associated with conference-related activities and 
expenses.'' On May 11, 2012, OMB expanded that effort to mitigate the 
risk of inappropriate spending, issuing Memorandum 12-12 (OMB M-12-12), 
``Promoting Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations.'' M-12-12 
outlined a series of policies and practices for conference sponsorship, 
hosting, and attendance to ensure that Federal funds are used 
appropriately on these activities, and that agencies continue to reduce 
spending on conferences wherever possible. VA incorporated this policy 
in its July 3, 2012 memoranda.
    After issues at the 2011 HR National Training Conferences came to 
light, it was clear that we needed to go further still in order to 
ensure that we leave a lasting culture of accountability VA. In early 
August 2012, after being briefed by the VA IG's office on its 
investigation of the Orlando conferences, the Secretary immediately 
ordered a range of strict measures to ensure tougher oversight:

      full Departmental cooperation with the IG investigation;
      the removal of purchasing authority from employees in the 
unit under investigation;
      an outside, independent review of all training policies 
and procedures and the execution of all training conferences;
      an outside, independent review of conference planning and 
execution, and oversight policies and practice;
      ethics training for all VA personnel involved with the 
planning or execution of conferences; and
      an internal examination of existing VA policies as they 
relate to Administration policy, departmental policy, and Federal law 
and regulation on conferences.

    As a result of this internal examination, on September 16, 2012, VA 
issued a revised conference planning and oversight policy. The new 
policy regarding the approval and planning of conferences was further 
developed and communicated in a revised memorandum on September 26, 
2012. VA conference process now has four phases: concept, development, 
execution, and reporting. Each phase has objectives, metrics, and 
standards of execution. Once an organization has a concept for a 
conference, that concept is to be developed and included in the Concept 
Authorization Briefing as part of the quarterly Conference Planning and 
Execution Briefing Cycle. Starting in December 2012, more detailed 
briefings on any conferences VA proposes to host or co-host, or Federal 
or non-Federal hosted conferences VA employees will be conducted on a 
quarterly basis.
    Conferences estimated to cost between $20,000 and $100,000 require 
approval by an Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, or equivalent 
senior official in the proponent organization. Conferences estimated to 
cost over $100,000 but less than $500,000 require approval by the 
Deputy Secretary. Conferences over $500,000 are generally not permitted 
under OMB Memo 12-12 and may only proceed if the Secretary approves a 
waiver. To help implement these reforms, VA has established a corporate 
Training Support Office, which helps coordinate quarterly Conference 
Planning and Execution Briefings.
    Conferences that receive conceptual approval proceed to the 
development stage. To provide better oversight and single points of 
accountability from the event's planning through its execution, the 
Department now requires each Administration and Staff Office to 
designate a Conference Certifying Official (CCO), who must be a Senior 
Executive or SES-equivalent. The CCO, who must be familiar with all VA 
and Executive Branch training conference policies and procedures, will 
certify that the proposed event complies with all regulations and 
policies. The CCO also certifies that the proposal, which includes all 
anticipated costs, provides a detailed business analysis for the 
planned conference and travel investment.
    If a conference is approved, and planning commences, each 
conference estimated to cost VA over $20,000 will require the 
appointment of a second official, the Responsible Conference Executive 
(RCE). The RCE will ensure the conference is executed according to the 
plan approved by the CCO and adheres to all applicable regulations and 
policies. The RCE's responsibilities continue through and after the 
event. The RCE must certify, within 15 days of the completion the 
conference, that due diligence was exercised in the execution of the 
training conference and ensure the conference was executed within 5 
percent of the planned budget.
    ``Due diligence'' includes: prior approvals of any conference-
related spending; bans on entertainment and promotional item spending; 
and restrictions on spending in accordance with OMB Memo M-12-12 and 
VA's financial policies and procedures. To further assist in executing 
future conferences in a more efficient manner, the Responsible 
Conference Executive must also submit an After-Action Review Report.
    The designation of a Conference Certifying Official and a 
Responsible Conference Executive for every large conference will 
clearly identify the specific individuals responsible for ensuring 
appropriate conference planning and overseeing conference management 
and execution.
    Additionally, the Department currently has a central conference 
tracking repository and is developing an electronic portal that will 
contain materials to help Administrations and Staff Offices develop 
their conference business case and associated planning documents. This 
portal will also help track information for the Department to report 
training conference spending in accordance with OMB Memo M-12-12 and 
Public Law 112-154, the ``Honoring America's Veterans and Caring for 
Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012''. This law requires VA to track and 
report to Congress quarterly conferences that are sponsored or co-
sponsored by VA and attended by at least one VA employee, or estimated 
to cost VA at least $20,000 - and to provide estimates for the next 
quarter.
    The Department has instituted sound policies and has provided clear 
guidance to individuals within VA responsible for the approval, 
planning, and execution of conferences. We recognize that insufficient 
oversight has resulted in the misuse of some taxpayer dollars. This is 
unacceptable. We will continuously review our policies and procedures 
to ensure we are using our resources effectively and appropriately 
while providing the training that is so critically necessary for VA 
employees..
VALUE OF TRAINING FOR VA'S MISSION
    While we must address the specific issues by the Inspector General 
and the systemic problems they implicate, we must also be very 
conscious of the continued value of VA training conferences.
    As this Committee is well aware, this is a time of rapidly growing 
challenges for VA. To meet those challenges across the vast network of 
VA hospitals, clinics, benefits offices and national cemeteries, it is 
necessary that our personnel train and consult with VA colleagues and 
outside authorities on new and best practices across an enormous 
spectrum of subjects, ranging from electronic-records administration to 
suicide prevention. The progress we have made in the last few years to 
transform the Department into a 21st century organization would not 
have been possible without a highly trained workforce. Our employees 
need to be trained to ensure they stay current to deliver on our 
mission. We will make maximum use of technology to meet most 
efficiently meet those training needs, however conferences will remain 
essential to VA's efforts to meet the rapidly evolving needs of our 
Veteran population.
    In 2009, VA recognized that the changing needs of Veterans required 
improving and enhancing the training of its employees. At that time, VA 
training programs were scattered, siloed, and underutilized. The need 
for improved performance was clear in the midst of increased demand due 
to ongoing combat operations and the expected retirement of a high 
proportion of the VA workforce in the near future. If VA did not invest 
substantially in its employee training, the Nation faced the prospect 
of an underprepared, undertrained VA at precisely the moment when the 
needs of our Veteran community were greatest.
    One of VA's four strategic goals requires us to invest in our 
employees so that they can improve service and customer satisfaction 
for Veterans and their families. Consequently, the Department 
identified transformation of our human-capital management as a main 
element in our Strategic Plan. We have been working for the past three 
years on providing our employees with the training they need.
    Training requirements are based on identified competencies for each 
employee. We have worked to define management and technical 
competencies for all our key service areas. At the forefront of these 
efforts is the policy requiring that there be ``line-of-sight'' from 
the Department's strategic goals and capabilities, through 
organizational missions and functions, to the individual employee's 
personal performance and development plans. Through this ``line-of-
sight'' approach, we can identify the employee-level competencies 
needed to achieve the Department's strategic goals. We can then 
identify gaps in these competencies, and develop training programs to 
fill them.
    VA's training programs - including, but not limited to, our 
training conferences - follow a cyclical model. The cycle begins by 
identifying the critical knowledge, skills, and behaviors an employee 
requires to better serve our Veterans. These defined competencies and 
our organizational values are linked to training. Training needs are 
then compared to available resources and a final plan developed to 
correct gaps across the entire organization on a priority basis. 
Through this process the course offerings in our training programs, 
including training conferences, are identified. As training courses are 
developed, we give strong consideration to ensuring that courses are 
available to the largest population of employees, and are carried out 
in a cost-effective manner - with a preference for using available 
technology to provide virtual training where feasible.
    Once conducted, courses are rigorously evaluated to assess 
participant satisfaction, on-the-job behavior change, and 
organizational impact. The feedback from this evaluation is used to 
inform future course-development and to continually improve our 
training methods.
    To facilitate high quality, cost-effective continuous learning, VA 
established VA Learning University (VALU) in 2003. Further, VA created 
centralized training centers for specific fields, such as the VA 
Acquisition Academy and the Veterans Benefits Academy.
    VA's Human Capital Investment Programs (HCIP), have demonstrated a 
positive return on investment (ROI). HCIP initiatives are designed to 
build a healthy and engaged VA organization where employees deliver 
high-quality services. VALU applied industry best practices to analyze 
the ROI for HCIP initiatives, yielding a positive 5%. These findings 
are being used as the foundation for deeper insights into new 
initiatives with the ultimate goal of demonstrating the future value of 
HCIP as well as driving investment decisions moving forward.
    Advances in technology have made distance learning a more feasible 
option for many kinds of training. VA has already made extensive use of 
technology to provide training nationwide, and we are aggressively 
looking into new ways in which we leverage it even further. However, as 
a result of the Department's diverse and complex missions, there are 
occasions, which are outlined below, when travel to conduct face-to-
face meetings for training is most effective and efficient.
    We must avoid falling into a mindset that reflexively denies the 
value of in-person meetings. Such meetings certainly have their place. 
But we clearly have to do a better job of monitoring our costs and 
improving oversight. In accordance with Administration directives and 
internal policies, VA has instituted a multi-tiered approval process 
for all training conferences that cost VA over $20,000. Recognizing 
that resources are limited and that further efficiencies can be found 
in our operations, VA continues to find ways to implement the 
Administration's guidance to reduce spending while continuing to 
provide high quality training.
    Our Administrations and Staff Offices have adapted their training 
programs to better improve employees' ability to provide high quality 
service for Veterans. I would now like to turn to some of the 
individual administrations and staff offices within VA, to talk about 
how these programs - including, where necessary, in-person conferences 
- are resulting in better support for America's Veterans:
VETERANS HEALTH ADMINISTRATION
    In perhaps no part of VA is personnel training of greater 
significance than in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which 
must not only contend with the complex health care challenges facing 
the Veteran community, but must also do so while competing with 
private-sector companies for health care and administrative talent.
    VHA is the Nation's largest integrated health care system, 
providing quality clinical care to more than 8.4 million enrolled 
Veterans at more than 1,400 points of care across the country. VHA's 
mission is to honor America's Veterans by providing exceptional care 
that improves their health and well-being. To do this effectively, 
training and competency development is critical as we work to maintain 
statutory, regulatory or VA-required licensure, certification and 
qualifications.
    Providing these opportunities for clinical skills development is 
essential to recruitment and retention as we work daily to address the 
emerging issues unique to the large and diverse Veteran population 
including: Polytrauma from multiple war related injuries; disease 
positively associated with exposure to various chemicals during 
conflict; traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder; 
suicide prevention and other mental health diagnoses; women's health 
and military sexual trauma; cancer and other age-related diseases of 
Korean-era and Vietnam-era Veterans; and elimination of Veteran 
homelessness.
    Consider our increasing investment in telehealth training. 
Telehealth is and continues to be a key driver in maximizing access to 
primary and specialty services for all Veterans, including those in 
rural or remote areas. The implementation of this telehealth 
infrastructure requires training for an overall understanding behind 
the vision of how this program can change care and delivery to Veterans 
as well as providing skills and competency for utilizing the necessary 
equipment and technology.
    In 2011, 160 participants acquired the knowledge and skills to 
manage telehealth programs and facilities. Students participated in 
hands-on training and evaluation of technology support for over 380,865 
patients who used telehealth services last year alone.
    Another example of the direct and tangible results of training 
programs throughout VHA is the Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) 
Collaborative and Learning Center. PACT is central to VHA's strategy to 
implement a medical home model and team-based care. 1,233 VHA 
participants utilized this collaborative to better equip the VHA health 
care teams to provide coordinated and holistic care with streamlined 
delivery of services. After completing the training, participants 
reported a 27% increase in Veterans contacted within 48 days and 
visited within 7 days of transition from the hospital.
VETERANS BENEFITS ADMINISTRATION
    Now let's turn to the Veterans Benefit Administration, or VBA. One 
of the most significant areas in which VA's commitment to training has 
shown results is the Challenge training program utilized by the 
Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to train its Veterans Service 
Representatives (VSR) and Rating Veterans Service Representatives 
(RVSR). VBA seeks to eliminate the disability claims backlog and 
process all claims at a 98% accuracy level.
    Central to meeting this goal is investing in the training of VBA's 
personnel. Under its comprehensive Transformation Campaign Plan, VBA 
redesigned and enhanced the Challenge training program in July 2011. 
Redesign of the centralized Challenge program grew out of VBA's need to 
make new claims processors more proficient and productive at the start 
of their careers, while minimizing the impact on experienced staff 
called on to provide follow-on training at the local regional offices. 
A July 2012 report examined the updated training's impact after nearly 
a year of use. This report is a prime example of VA's thorough 
examination of the return on training investments. The training, 
centralized at VA's Benefits Academy in Baltimore, creates efficiencies 
in training delivery by collocating the new employees at one site. On 
balance, the expenditure of sending new VBA employees to Baltimore for 
an eight-week period of training is outweighed by the gains in accuracy 
and productivity those employees receive from being assembled to 
receive training from knowledgeable and effective instructors 
delivering a long, complex curriculum. Further, the shared learning 
experience enables employees with diverse backgrounds who work in 
different regional offices across the country to develop a shared sense 
of mission. Finally, common training standards and methods lower 
variance in quality and productivity around the Nation.
    The new model demonstrated success in 90 days. Under the legacy 
model, at the end of the six-month training period trainees averaged 
one-half case per day and 60% accuracy prior to review. In contrast, by 
the end of just over three months under the revised Challenge model, 
graduates were able to complete more than a case per day with greater 
than 95% accuracy. When employees returned to their home stations, they 
continue to learn through additional on-the-job training. This focus on 
training helped VA complete a record- breaking 1 million claims per 
year the last two fiscal years, delivering faster, better decisions for 
Veterans.
    As VA continues to receive more disability claims, deploying highly 
trained and competent VSRs and RVSRs to the Regional Offices is a main 
focus in the Department's goal of eliminating the claims backlog by 
2015.
OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT
    Training is focused not only on the ever changing technical aspects 
of the medical and benefits offered to Veterans and their families but 
the rapidly changing management environment, as well. VA continues its 
transformation by creating a highly skilled workforce that supports all 
operational and management functions. That's where VA's Office of 
Management comes in.
    For example, the Office of Finance was tasked with training 
approximately 6,800 VA employees in financial management positions 
within VA. The FM Training Conference is the principal platform by 
which all VA employees who perform financial management related duties 
come together to share knowledge and learn essential skills in the 
areas of auditing, accounting, budget analysis, and financial 
management.
    These conferences offered 27 courses including Appropriations Law, 
Federal Financial Management Overview and Federal Accounting 
Fundamentals. With other improvements we have made, VA achieved a 75% 
reduction in material weaknesses in our FY 2011 annual financial audit.
OFFICE OF INFORMATION AND TECHNOLOGY
    The VA Office of Information and Technology (OIT) delivers 
available, adaptable, secure, and cost effective technology services to 
the VA and acts as a steward for all VA's IT assets and resources.
    To ensure exemplary execution of this mission, it is vital that IT 
staff at all of the VA facilities are aware of policy changes and how 
to implement and communicate changes to the customer base of over 
300,000 VA employees.
    For example, OIT has used the Project Management Training Summit to 
convene IT project managers to ensure that they are all aligned on the 
profound changes in the way OIT delivers its services to the VA 
workforce. Summit facilitators were able to evaluate the training 
summit and capture significant metrics regarding the validity and 
usefulness of the training: 76% of participants felt better informed 
about system processes; 72% reported a better understanding of budget 
execution; and 81% had a better understanding of operations and 
maintenance planning.
    Through this training summit and other training conferences that 
OIT has held since 2009, OIT has been able to ensure that our highly 
dispersed, nationwide IT staff is consistently provided the training 
and information IT need to ensure high-quality customer service to 
Veterans as technology continues to advance.
    As VA moves forward to implement the Secretary's vision for a 
highly skilled workforce, training remains a vital and important way 
for VA employees to continually improve their service to Veterans.
    Training conferences featuring face-to-face education and 
practical, hands-on instruction help to develop a robust workforce in 
all sectors of business. They are necessary to stay on the leading edge 
of processes and technology, so VA can continue to provide Veterans 
with exemplary service. As we continue to harness technological 
advancements, VA will critically reexamine training opportunities with 
a commitment to implementing further efficiencies by reducing, where 
appropriate, administrative spending - while also providing excellent 
training to keep our employees certified in their field and equipped 
with the tools necessary to serve those who have already given so much 
in serving us.
QUALITY AND TIMELINESS OF INFORMATION TO CONGRESS
    VA values the oversight of our Congressional committees and 
Members. Partnering with Congressional offices to provide information 
to better serve our Nation's Veterans is a goal of the Department. In 
this spirit, Secretary Shinseki notified Congressional leaders of the 
investigation into the Orlando HR training conferences after the 
Secretary was notified of the investigation by IG personnel.
    VA provided detailed information to this Committee and other 
committees after we learned of the IG investigation into the Orlando HR 
training conferences. In August, the Department, provided multiple 
Congressional committees with thousands of pages covering VA's 
department-wide policies and procedures relative to training 
conferences generally; Orlando-specific contract and acquisition 
documents; Orlando conferences specific documents, including agendas, 
activities, training course evaluations, and speeches; and over 33 
hours of video produced for and during the conferences on DVDs. Since 
August, VA has received approximately 125 inquiries spanning a range of 
issues related to training conferences. Many of these inquiries have 
required customized data collection efforts involving all 
Administrations and Staff Offices. In order to provide consistent and 
accurate information, thousands of man hours have been spent processing 
these requests.
    VA believes that greater transparency and partnership can be 
improved by providing thorough, accurate information. Providing 
complete, verifiable information is contingent upon gathering and 
circulating the requested data among a number of stakeholder offices in 
VA. This is especially the case when the requested data comes from 
every Administration and Staff Office. This process, while detailed and 
lengthy, helps ensure that there is consistent and accurate information 
provided to Congress.
    VA employees regularly interact with and provide information to 
committee and Member staffs on VA programs and policies. During the 
last two fiscal years, VA senior leaders participated in 118 hearings, 
conducted over 1,142 briefings to Members of Congress and staff; 
responded to 3,204 questions for the record and processed approximately 
40,000 constituent casework inquiries. Additionally, VA responded to 
over 6,000 specific policy-related requests for information.
    VA also supports the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its 
investigative mission to Congress. During last fiscal year, VA 
participated in 43 entrance conferences and 41 exit conferences. VA 
provided information during the conduct of each of these GAO reviews. 
VA also gave information on 65 draft GAO reports and 72 final GAO 
reports, representing a 35 percent and 52 percent increase respectfully 
over the previous fiscal year's numbers.
    As these figures indicate, VA is committed to supporting Congress 
in its oversight mission and I assure you, VA will continue to provide 
Congress with accurate and complete information.
CONCLUSION
    Our Department's mission is to honor and serve the Nation's 
Veterans; this is a sacred obligation for both the Department and the 
Nation. Incumbent in serving Veterans, their dependents, and survivors 
is the need for us to manage our resources carefully and ensure there 
is appropriate oversight of and accountability for our acts. We look 
forward to working with our partners in Congress to help ensure that 
our new policies on training conference planning, approval, and 
execution effectively address the issues identified by the IG, our 
internal review, and pending third-party reviews, while preserving the 
ability to train our personnel to deliver high quality benefits and 
services in a rapidly changing environment.
    Mr. Chairman, I will be glad to answer any questions you or the 
other Members of the Committee have.

                                 
                        Question For The Record
    To Hon. Eric K. Shinseki, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans 
Affairs, from Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member

                           November 28, 2012

    The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
    Secretary
    U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
    810 Vermont Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20420

    Dear Mr. Secretary:

    In reference to our Full Committee hearing entitled, ``VA 
Conference Spending Accountability'' that took place on November 28, 
2012, I would appreciate it if you could answer the enclosed hearing 
questions by the close of business on January 7, 2013.

    In an effort to reduce printing costs, the Committee on Veterans' 
Affairs, in cooperation with the Joint Committee on Printing, is 
implementing some formatting changes for materials for all Full 
Committee and Subcommittee hearings. Therefore, it would be appreciated 
if you could provide your answers consecutively and single-spaced. In 
addition, please restate the question in its entirety before the 
answer.

    Due to the delay in receiving mail, please email your response in a 
word document to Carol Murray at [email protected] If you 
have any questions, please call 202-225-9756.

                               Sincerely,

                               BOB FILNER
                       Ranking Democratic Member

    DT:cm

    1. Will the VA provide a copy of the July 2012 report examining the 
impact of the VBA training program referenced in your testimony?

    2. In your testimony you highlighted the importance of the training 
provided to VA HR employees at the two conferences held in Orlando, 
Florida in 2011 and the importance of hiring health care professionals. 
Of the 1,600 Human Resources employees that attended the 2011 
conferences, how many are directly responsible for hiring the much 
needed positions for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System at the Fort 
Wayne, Indiana campus that have led to the closure of vital services to 
veterans?

    3. Your new policies require that conferences that exceed a certain 
budgetary amount will require approval by a Deputy Secretary, Under 
Secretary, Assistant Secretary or other senior officials. I would 
consider Mr. Gingrich a senior official, given that he authorized the 
budget for the multimillion dollar conferences. Who will oversee that 
leadership?

    4. According to the VA OIG report, the conference planner lacked 
the authority to commit governments funds for much of the expenses 
associated with the conferences, yet these individuals continued to do 
so.

    a. Why weren't these activities monitored?
    b. Why wasn't VA leadership questioning accounting expenses?

    5. According to the VA OIG report, there seems to be a complete 
lack of awareness from management of who was involved in the planning 
of the conferences, who committed to governments funds for expenses 
associated with the conferences, and overall confusion of roles. It 
seemed that no one really knew who did what. This allowed lower-grade 
employees take on a bigger role then they should have. Why did this 
occur?

    a. Why didn't management take responsibility?
    b. Why would management delegate authority to lower-grade employees 
and remain uninvolved with the planning of the conferences?
    c. Is this hands-off approach encouraged throughout the Department?

    6. In your written statement, in reference to the ``Challenge 
training program'' you reference a July 2012 report that ``examined the 
updated training's impact after nearly a year of use.'' Please provide 
copy of this report.

    7. In your written testimony you reference the VA's ``comprehensive 
Transformation Campaign Plan.'' Since the Committee's June 19, 2012 
hearing on the VBA Claims Transformation Plan we have been requesting a 
copy of this detailed plan that is not in a PowerPoint format. In a 
June 22, 2012 e-mail exchange with a VA Congressional Relations Officer 
we were assured that the VA was ``working on a version that provides 
additional detail, in word format'' and that this would be provided 
``as soon as possible.'' We have followed-up on this request a number 
of times, since at the June 22, 2012 hearing and at a subsequent 
hearing the Under Secretary for Benefits referenced a more detailed and 
comprehensive plan than a PowerPoint demonstration provided to 
Committee staff. Please provide the Committee immediately with such a 
detailed plan, or at least a firm date upon which the Committee may 
expect to receive such a plan.

    Responses to Bob Filner, Ranking Democratic Member from Hon. Eric 
K. Shinseki, Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

    1. Will the VA provide a copy of the July 2012 report examining the 
impact of the VBA training program referenced in your testimony?
    VA Response: The requested report and associated press release are 
publicly available at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/
pressrelease.cfm?id=2352.

    2. In your testimony you highlighted the importance of the training 
provided to VA HR employees at the two conferences held in Orlando, 
Florida in 2011 and the importance of hiring health care professionals. 
Of the 1,600 Human Resources employees that attended the 2011 
conferences, how many are directly responsible for hiring the much 
needed positions for VA Northern Indiana Health Care System at the Fort 
Wayne, Indiana campus that have led to the closure of vital services to 
veterans?
    VA Response: In 2011, seven Human Resources (HR) Specialists from 
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Northern Indiana Health Care 
System attended the HR conference in Orlando, Florida. Hiring Managers 
are directly responsible for hiring health care professionals, and the 
HR Specialists provide the expertise necessary to support the Hiring 
Managers.

    3. Your new policies require that conferences that exceed a certain 
budgetary amount will require approval by a Deputy Secretary, Under 
Secretary, Assistant Secretary or other senior officials. I would 
consider Mr. Gingrich a senior official, given that he authorized the 
budget for the multimillion dollar conferences. Who will oversee that 
leadership?
    VA Response: VA issued a Conference Oversight Policy Memorandum on 
September 26, 2012, that identifies the levels of leadership and 
oversight required of any conference attended by VA employees. The 
specific level of leadership oversight is a function of the estimated 
cost of the conference. For conferences estimated to cost less than 
$20,000, a Senior Executive Service (SES) employee or equivalent 
provides the leadership and oversight of the conference, and must use 
the same stringent procedures mandated for the larger conferences. For 
any conference estimated to cost over $20,000, a Conference Certifying 
Official (CCO) and Responsible Conference Executive (RCE), both SES-
level employees, provide the leadership and oversight for the 
conference.
    For approval purposes, conferences estimated to cost under $20,000 
require approval by an SES employee or equivalent. Conferences 
estimated to cost $20,000 to $100,000 require approval from the 
appropriate Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, or their equivalent. 
Conferences estimated to cost $100,000 up to $500,000 require approval 
from the Deputy Secretary. For conferences estimated to cost $500,000 
or more, a Secretarial waiver is required.

    4. According to the VA OIG report, the conference planner lacked 
the authority to commit governments funds for much of the expenses 
associated with the conferences, yet these individuals continued to do 
so.
    a. Why weren't these activities monitored?
    VA Response: The VA Conference Oversight Policy Memorandum issued 
on September 26, 2012, established CCOs and RCEs at the Senior 
Executive Level for all conferences exceeding $20,000. The RCE is 
responsible for ensuring that an approved conference or training event 
is executed with strict adherence to all applicable regulations and 
policies. As part of the review, the RCE will ensure that only properly 
warranted Contracting Officers make modifications to existing 
conference contracts, and that such modifications are made only when 
appropriate and within the overall spending limits set in the 
conference's approved spending plan. VA is also providing new training 
to program officials so they understand their roles in the procurement 
process.

    b. Why wasn't VA leadership questioning accounting expenses?
    VA Response: The VA Conference Oversight Policy Memorandum issued 
on September 26, 2012, established CCOs and RCEs at the Senior 
Executive Level for all conferences exceeding $20,000. The CCO and RCE 
are responsible for tracking all conference spending from proposal to 
completion, and the RCE must certify that all spending was in 
accordance with all regulations and policies.
    On November 13, 2012, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Finance 
and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics issued a 
memo requiring the names of all purchase cardholders with single 
purchase limits greater than the micro-purchase threshold be matched to 
a list of valid warrant holders. Any cardholders who could not be 
matched were to have their single purchase limit reduced to the micro-
purchase threshold. Additionally, the memo stated that any exceptions 
to this policy would have to be approved by the VA Senior Procurement 
Executive. This exception processing better aligns granting of this 
authority to the executive responsible for those activities. Although 
not a change in policy, it should be noted that any transaction above 
the micro-purchase threshold must be in compliance with Federal 
Acquisition Regulations.

    5. According to the VA OIG report, there seems to be a complete 
lack of awareness from management of who was involved in the planning 
of the conferences, who committed to governments funds for expenses 
associated with the conferences, and overall confusion of roles. It 
seemed that no one really knew who did what. This allowed lower-grade 
employees take on a bigger role then they should have. Why did this 
occur?

    a. Why didn't management take responsibility?
    b. Why would management delegate authority to lower-grade employees 
and remain uninvolved with the planning of the conferences?

    VA Response to 5 and sub-questions a and b: The Secretary accepted 
the OIG's recommendations for appropriate administrative action 
regarding the individuals involved; that process is underway. The VA's 
Conference Oversight Policy Memorandum issued on September 26, 2012 
established its updated policy. The policy requires a waiver from the 
Secretary for conferences that are projected to cost VA more than 
$500,000. The Deputy Secretary is the approval authority for 
conferences costing VA in excess of $100,000. Conferences projected to 
cost more than $20,000 but less than $100,000 must be reviewed by the 
appropriate Under Secretary or Assistant Secretary. The memo also 
established two new roles in the conference planning process: the CCO 
and the RCE, each of whom must be a Senior Executive or SES equivalent. 
The CCO reviews all conference proposals and certifies compliance with 
all regulations and policy before moving forward for clearance. In 
addition, each individual conference expected to cost over $20,000 now 
has an RCE, whose role is to oversee the day-to-day planning and 
execution of such conferences and to ensure that the conference is 
executed in accordance with regulation and policy.

    c. Is this hands-off approach encouraged throughout the Department?
    VA Response: VA has consistently stated that misuse of federal 
funds is unacceptable, and that is why VA acted quickly to implement 
rules that reflect a continuing commitment to safeguarding federal 
funds. VA's Conference Oversight Policy Memorandum, dated September 26, 
2012, responds to the oversight gaps identified in the OIG report and 
the internal reviews conducted in the wake of the 2011 HR Training 
Conferences by identifying roles and responsibilities of senior-level 
leadership to ensure proper accountability and oversight of federal 
funds. An SES level employee must review and approve any conference 
estimated to cost under $20,000. Two SES-level employees, a CCO and RCE 
will be appointed for each conference projected to cost in excess of 
$20,000. Their roles are to ensure adherence to all applicable 
statutes, regulations, and policies when planning and executing the 
approved conference. As the single point of responsibility for 
conference execution, the RCE will oversee and manage all execution-
level activity for the assigned conference. The memorandum also 
requires the respective Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, or their 
equivalent to act as the approval authority for a conference projected 
to cost from $20,000 to $100,000. The Deputy Secretary is responsible 
for approving conferences estimated to cost from $100,000 to $500,000. 
Conferences estimated to exceed $500,000 require a waiver by the 
Secretary.

    6. In your written statement, in reference to the ``Challenge 
training program'' you reference a July 2012 report that ``examined the 
updated training's impact after nearly a year of use.'' Please provide 
copy of this report.
    VA Response: Please see the response to question 1.

    7. In your written testimony you reference the VA's ``comprehensive 
Transformation Campaign Plan.'' Since the Committee's June 19, 2012 
hearing on the VBA Claims Transformation Plan we have been requesting a 
copy of this detailed plan that is not in a PowerPoint format. In a 
June 22, 2012 e-mail exchange with a VA Congressional Relations Officer 
we were assured that the VA was ``working on a version that provides 
additional detail, in word format'' and that this would be provided 
``as soon as possible.'' We have followed-up on this request a number 
of times, since at the June 22, 2012 hearing and at a subsequent 
hearing the Under Secretary for Benefits referenced a more detailed and 
comprehensive plan than a PowerPoint demonstration provided to 
Committee staff. Please provide the Committee immediately with such a 
detailed plan, or at least a firm date upon which the Committee may 
expect to receive such a plan.
    VA Response: The VA Strategic Plan to Eliminate the Compensation 
Claims Backlog was provided to the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs 
on January 25, 2013.

                                 
                        Materials For The Record
                 Deliverables for VBA from Rep. Michaud
    Deliverable 1: Requested the July 2012 report issued concerning the 
effectiveness of the VBA Challenge Training as referenced in the 
written statement.
    Response: The requested report and associated press release are 
publicly available at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/
pressrelease.cfm?id=2352.
    Deliverable 2: Requested information concerning the number of 
Veterans Service Representatives (VSRs) and Rating Veterans Service 
Representatives (RVSRs), and how many have already been deployed and 
where.
    Response: Please see the attached spreadsheets. The FY13 VSR and 
RVSR onboard spreadsheet shows the number of employees onboard as of 
the end of November. The VBA RVSR and VSR hires spreadsheet reflects 
the VSRs and RVSRs that we hired in fiscal years (FYs) 2011, 2012, and 
2013. Both spreadsheets are sorted by Area and regional office.
    Deliverable 3: Will there be additional VSRs and RVSRs deployed and 
where will they be deployed?
    Response: VBA's current FY 2013 funding request includes 14,355 
direct Compensation and Pension employees. This is an increase of 35 
direct FTE over FY 2012. Currently, VBA is fully staffed to the FY 2013 
funded levels and any hiring will be a result of replacing FTE losses. 
Throughout the FY, staffing losses will be monitored and filled to 
ensure regional offices are operating at full claims processing 
capacity.
    Regional office staffing allocations are determined by a 
performance-based "Resource Allocation Model". Directors must ensure 
they are staffed to their approved ceilings throughout the year, and 
fill VSR and RVSR roles as necessary in order optimize output.
    The additional deployment mentioned refers to VBA's approximately 
1,200 claims processors who were dedicated to Nehmer claims processing 
throughout FY 2011 and into FY 2012. The last of the live Veterans' 
Nehmer claims were completed in April 2012, and the last survivor claim 
in October 2012. These claims processors have been re-deployed to focus 
on the oldest claims in our inventory and other specialized missions, 
such as Benefits Delivery at Discharge, Quick Start, and appeals 
workload.1

 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                                     VSR                         RVSR
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Eastern Area                         1459                         607
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Baltimore                           56                          41
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Boston                           82                          18
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Buffalo                           49                          26
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Cleveland                          138                          95
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Detroit                           95                          44
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Hartford                           43                          24
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Indianapolis                           92                          27
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Manchester                           21                           7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             New York                           77                          41
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Newark                           45                          17
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                Philadelphia \1\, \2\                          498                         121
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Pittsburgh                           62                          30
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Providence                           74                          65
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Togus \1\                          100                          41
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          White River                           12                           4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Wilmington                           15                           6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        Southern Area                         1747                         934
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Atlanta                          168                          85
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Columbia \1\                          177                          99
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       Huntington \1\                           98                          45
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
                                              Jackson                           89                          43
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Louisville                 87                          54
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Montgomery                           96                          57
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Nashville                          150                          94
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Roanoke \1\                          158                          81
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             San Juan                           53                          25
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                   St. Petersburg \1\                          392                         184
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Washington                            1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        Winston-Salem                          278                         167
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Central Area                         1898                         840
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Chicago                           89                          47
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                           Des Moines                           41                          23
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Fargo                           20                          13
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Houston                          180                          91
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Lincoln \1\               100                          51
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Little Rock                67                          44
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        Milwaukee \2\                          306                          68
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Muskogee \1\                          155                          92
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          New Orleans                           61                          33
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Sioux Falls                           20                          13
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 St. Louis \1\                 134                          66
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         St. Paul \2\                          349                         101
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Waco \1\                          339                         180
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Wichita                           37                          18
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                         Western Area                         1445                         767
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Albuquerque                           38                          17
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                            Anchorage                           20                           9
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Boise                           30                          18
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Denver                          102                          55
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Cheyenne                           12                           6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        Fort Harrison                           25                          15
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Honolulu                           29                          14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                     Los Angeles               119                          39
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                               Manila                           39                          10
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                              Oakland                          120                          54
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Phoenix \1\                          136                          77
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                             Portland                           86                          41
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                 Reno                           37                          19
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                Salt Lake City                 114                          94
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                        San Diego \1\                          269                         127
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          Seattle \1\                          281                         178
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                                  AMC                          102                          48
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
\1\ Regional office with a Resource Center
\2\ Includes Pension Management Center


                                              VBA RVSR & VSR Gains
                                               FY11-FY13 (To date)
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                       2011                          2012                        2013
                          --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                RVSR           VSR            RVSR           VSR          RVSR           VSR
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            EASTERN AREA             39             63             11           115                          20
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  BOSTON                             2                           21                           6
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              PROVIDENCE             25              1             10             3
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                NEW YORK
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                   BUFFALO
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                HARTFORD                                                          5
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  NEWARK                                                          4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     PHILADELPHIA     1             42                           42                           2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              PITTSBURGH
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      BALTIMORE
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                       CLEVELAND                                                 11                           4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               INDIANAPOLIS           4             15                            8                           1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 DETROIT              9                             1            13
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              MANCHESTER                                                          1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                   TOGUS                             3                            7                           7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           WHT RIVER JCT
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      WILMINGTON
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           SOUTHERN AREA             67             49             11            58                          31
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 ROANOKE                             6                           11                           9
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              HUNTINGTON              5              7              3             2                           2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      ATLANTA         6              7                            5
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           ST PETERSBURG                             1                           23
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              WINSTON-SALEM          53             16                            8
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      COLUMBIA                       1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  NASHVILLE           1                             4                                         4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              MONTGOMERY                                            4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 JACKSON                             1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        LOUISVILLE    2             10                            4                           8
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                SAN JUAN                                                          5                           8
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
           WASHINGTON DC
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  CENTRAL AREA       32             75             16           105             2            27
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  NEW ORLEANS         3              2                            2
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 CHICAGO              6              9              5             6             1             4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                      MILWAUKEE       8              7                           15                           7
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                     ST LOUIS                                                     4                           1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
              DES MOINES                             1                            3                           1
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        LINCOLN       2              4                           13                          10
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                  ST PAUL                           12              2            20                           4
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    WACO             12             27              7            26
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                        LITTLE ROCK
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                MUSKOGEE                                                         14
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                 HOUSTON              1             11                            1
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                   FARGO                             2              1             1             1
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                SIOUX FALLS
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                 WICHITA
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            WESTERN AREA             35             68             21           124             3            15
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                  DENVER             15              7                            6
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                       ALBUQUERQUE                   6                            2
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                      SALT LAKE CITY                                              2
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                     OAKLAND                         3                           16
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                        LOS ANGELES                  5                            9
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                 PHOENIX                                            2             5                           4
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                   SEATTLE            4             19             13            53             2
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                   BOISE                             2                            1                           2
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                    PORTLAND
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                    RENO                                            4             2             1
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                    MANILA
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               SAN DIEGO             13             17                           22                           6
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             FT HARRISON                             1                            2
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                    HONOLULU          3              3              2                                         2
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               ANCHORAGE                             5                            4                           1
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                     AMC             15              6             10
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                                       Memorandum
    Department of Veterans Affairs

    Date: September 26, 2012
    From: Chief of Staff (00A)
    Subj: Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Conference Oversight 
(VAIQ# 7280489)
    To:Under Secretaries, Assistant Secr--etaries, and Other Key 
Officials

    1. This memorandum supersedes all memoranda previously issued by 
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief of Staff concerning 
conference oversight, and provides updated guidance on the planning, 
review, approval, and execution requirements for conferences. See 
Attachment 1. The Department standard is clear: we will strictly adhere 
to statutes, regulations, policies, and procedures concerning 
conference planning, approvals, acquisitions, and execution. This 
standard requires robust oversight and management controls by our 
leaders as outlined in this memorandum and the attached documents. VA 
leaders and employees must continue to comply with Public Law 112-154, 
Section 707- Quarterly Reports To Congress on Conferences Sponsored By 
The Department, and OMB M-12-12, dated May 11, 2012 "Promoting 
Efficient Spending to Support Agency Operations." See Attachment 3.
    2. The Secretary has directed two external, independent reviews: 
one focused on VA's training and another on conference policies, 
principles, and procedures. The review related to training will assess 
the adequacy of VA's current controls over training requirements 
determination and approach, trainee selection, effectiveness measures, 
and whether those policies, principles and procedures are implemented 
effectively and consistently throughout the Department. The review 
focused on conferences will examine the adequacy of VA's controls over 
conference planning and related acquisition processes and how those 
controls are implemented throughout the Department. Both reviews will 
examine our internal policies as well as look for best practices from 
other government agencies, as we seek to implement the Administration's 
guidance to reduce expenses. After the conclusion of the third party 
reviews of VA's conference planning execution and oversight policies 
and practices, a "Conference Planning, Execution and Oversight" 
directive and handbook will be published in third quarter of Fiscal 
Year 2013.
    3. Background: Standards for determining when and how federal 
agencies execute conferences are evolving. OMB recently provided all 
federal agencies guidance that sets a standard with regard to the need 
for collocation of employees during meetings and conferences. 
Specifically, OMB states that, "agencies must confirm that physical 
collocation of Federal employees in a conference setting is a necessary 
and cost-effective means to carry out the agency's mission." OMB 
guidance further states that "agencies should begin their reviews by 
presuming that physical collocation as part of a conference is not 
required in the majority of cases." OMB indicates their expectation 
that professional development needed to keep skills current for human 
resources, accounting, procurement, or other government professionals 
be done by VTC, webinars, or other electronic means. VA recognizes 
electronic means are useful tools, but also that not all clinical 
training and professional development can be accomplished through these 
mediums.
    OMB also requires that agencies ensure that appropriate policies 
and controls are in place to limit food, beverage, or other refreshment 
costs at conferences sponsored or hosted by the agency, as well as 
lodging costs for employees attending conferences and fees paid to 
subject-matter experts to speak at conferences. They also remind us 
that agencies should look to host or sponsor conferences in space 
controlled by the Federal Government where possible in order to reduce 
costs. OMB also emphasizes entertainment-related expenses are expressly 
prohibited, including paying for motivational speakers, as contrasted 
to speakers with specific subject-matter expertise in the topic of the 
conference. OMB also specifically mentions that promotional items are 
an unallowable expense. (Danny Werfel, Aug 31, 2012, Controller Alert- 
Federal Conferences and Real Property Data Quality)
    4. Definitions: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will adhere 
to the definition of "conference" included in OMB Memorandum (M-12-12), 
which uses "conference" as defined in the Federal Travel Regulation 
(FTR): "[a] meeting, retreat, seminar, symposium or event that involves 
attendee travel. The term "conference" also applies to training 
activities that are considered to be conferences under 5 CFR 410.404." 
Therefore, conferences covered by these guidelines include all 
conferences, training sessions, meetings, Advisory Committee meetings, 
rehabilitative sporting events, orsimilar events where travel is 
involved that are VA hosted or co-hosted, or other Federalor non-
Federal entities host, without regard to number of attendees or dollar 
value. In addition to activities included in the definitions above, 
activities such as Federal Executive Institute; senior leader courses; 
administrative board hearings, e.g., Board of Veterans' Appeals 
hearings; and award ceremonies will be treated as conferences. While we 
recognize that an administrative board hearing, for example, may not 
meet the threshold levels for approval, the entity hosting the activity 
is responsible for the same degree of scrutiny and oversight as with 
any conference or training event hosted by VA. All thresholds 
referenced in this memorandum are inclusive of travel and non-travel 
costs.
    5. Approval Authorities: Approval authorities, which shall not be 
re-delegated, for conducting conferences which VA-hosts or co-hosts, or 
other Federal or non-Federal entities host are as follows(See 
Attachment 2):

       a. where the projected costs to VA are in excess of $500,000, 
conferences are generally prohibited. Any waivers of this restriction 
must be approved by the Secretary. (See Attachment 6). Requests for a 
waiver will be reviewed by the Deputy Secretary and the Chief of Staff 
who will make recommendations to the Secretary no later than 60 days 
prior to the event;
       b. where the projected costs to VA are in excess of $100,000 but 
less than $500,000, the Deputy Secretary and the Chief of Staff will 
continue to review. (See Attachment 5). The Deputy Secretary will 
approve proposals no later than 60 days prior to the event;
       c. where the projected costs to VA are at least $20,000 but less 
than $100,000, the conference must be approved by the Under Secretary, 
Assistant Secretary or equivalent of the organization proposing to 
conduct the conference no later than 60 days prior to the event; and
       d. where the projected costs to VA are less than $20,000, the 
conference may be approved in accordance with the sponsoring 
Administration or Staff Office's established approval process no later 
than 30 days prior to the event. The Administration or Staff Office is 
responsible for ensuring that the approving authority is a Senior 
Executive or SES-equivalent.Administrations and Staff Offices will 
ensure that the same appropriateguidelines, statutes, policies, and 
regulations are followed for the review and approval process for a 
conference costing the VA less than $20,000 or having less than 50 
attendees.
       e. For a graphical depiction of budgetary thresholds, please see 
Attachment 3.
       f. Approval is required when exhibiting (display booths, 
recruitment fairs, etc.) or participating at conferences hosted by 
other Federal or non-Federal entities. Further guidance on approval 
requirements will be provided by October 15, 2012.
       g. Commitment of any funds or obligation to the government is 
prohibited priorto the review and approval of the specified Approval 
Authority.
       h. Waiver of timelines may be granted by the specified Approval 
Authority with sufficient justification to request an exception.

    6. Process: VA's conference process will have four phases: Concept, 
Development, Execution, and Reporting. (See Attachment 4). Each phase 
will have objectives, metrics, and standards of execution. Starting in 
October 2012, VA will begin a quarterly Conference Planning and 
Execution Briefing Cycle.
    Each Administration and Staff Office will be responsible for 
briefing the Chief of Staff quarterly on any anticipated conferences VA 
proposes to host or co-host, or Federal or non-Federal hosted 
conferences VA employees will attend, during the next twelve months. 
All planned conferences costing VA over $20,000 each will require a 
concept plan. The format for the concept plan will be posted on the 
portal (to be developed) and will be the same as the format currently 
utilized for current fiscal year submissions. However, all planned 
conferences costing VA less than $20,000 each will be submitted in a 
lump-sum estimate as part of the quarterly briefing to the Chief of 
Staff.
       a. Conference Planning Cycle: Ninety days prior to the start of 
a fiscal quarter, the Chief of Staff will host a meeting of the 
Administrations and Staff Offices to review and authorize planning and 
business case development for all conferences proposed to cost VA 
$20,000 or more in funds or resources.After the Chief of Staff performs 
an initial review of the fiscal year plan, each Administration and 
Staff Office are required to brief the Chief of Staff on their 
individual fiscal year conference plan. Each Administration and Staff 
Office must ensure that their budget officer is fully integrated into 
the decision process of all four phases to ensure fiscal discipline. 
Deviations of more than 5 percent above the approved conference budget 
require notification back to the approving authority and will require 
additional approval if budgetary thresholds are crossed.Templates for 
information required will be contained in the conference 
portal.Byexception, with appropriate justification, a conference can be 
submitted for approval out of cycle as long as all planning 
requirements have been met.
       b. Concept Phase: VA will establish a disciplined conference 
approval process, which will begin with the concept phase. Once an 
organization has a concept for a conference, that concept will be 
developed and included in the Concept Authorization Briefing as part of 
the quarterly Conference Planning and Execution Briefing Cycle.
       c. Development Phase: This phase includes the development of the 
businesscase and the guidance for the planning and execution of the 
potential conference, and certification by the Conference Certifying 
Official (CCO).
       d. Execution Phase: This phase covers the period after the 
conference has been approved and the Administration or Staff Office has 
begun to execute the fully developed plan.

         i. Site visits are authorized but must be approved by the 
Responsible Conference Executive (RCE). The use of any site visit 
should be limited to situations where all other reasonable alternatives 
such as Web searches, use of Internet, phone conversations and 
teleconferencing have proven insufficient with the proposed conference 
site vendors. All approved site visits will minimize days of travel and 
travelers.
         ii. In accordance with the Office of Acquisition and Logistics 
InformationLetter (IL-049-12-12) located at: http://www.va.gov/oal/
docs/library/ils/il02-- 12.pdf, Legal and Technical Review of Proposed 
Contracts for Conferences, all proposed contracts for conferences, 
where VA's commitment, expenditure and liability combined exceed 
$25,000, require legal and technical review prior to signature by a VA 
Contracting Officer.

       e. Reporting Phase: This phase covers the period after the 
execution of theconference. Administrations and Staff Offices will 
ensure that conferences were executed in accordance with applicable 
policies and regulations, and they must also conduct After Action 
Reviews. (See Attachment 13). Administrations and Staff Offices will 
assist in VA's continuing duty to track and report conference 
attendance and spending in accordance with Public Law 112-154 and OMB 
M- 12-12.
    7. Responsibilities: Each Administration and Staff Office must 
develop internal supervisory controls for oversight of the execution of 
the conference, including appropriate checks and balances.

       a. Each Administration and Staff Office shall appoint in writing 
at least one CCO. (See Attachment 7). The CCO shall be a Senior 
Executive or SES-equivalent. The designee shall be familiar with the 
regulations and policy related to the conduct of conferences, training, 
and meetings. All conference proposals where costs to VA are expected 
to exceed $20,000 must be reviewed and certified by the CCO as being in 
compliance with regulations and policy.
       b. A Senior Executive official shall be designated in writing as 
the RCE for anycovered conference estimated to cost at least $20,000 
(See Attachment 10). The RCE is to be responsible for ensuring 
adherence to all applicable statutes,regulations, and policies when 
executing the approved conference. The RCE will nominate an 
appropriately qualified person to serve as the Program Manager (PM). 
(See Attachment 14).
       c. The RCE must certify that due diligence was exercised during 
the execution stage of a conference within 15 days of the conclusion of 
the conference. Examples of due diligence include, but are not limited 
to, requiring prior approval of any conference-related expenditure, 
including any use of purchase cards, and the RCE ensuring that there is 
a rational basis for the approval of lodging upgrades. This also 
includes ensuring that no conference includes expenditures for the use 
of entertainment (videos, music, etc.), motivational speakers, the 
purchase of SWAG ("Stuff We All Get") or promotional items, or the use 
of funds to emboss or otherwise imprint the name of the organization or 
event on any supplies, mementos, or other handouts. Further, within 30 
days of the completion of the conference, the RCE will ensure that an 
After Action Review is conducted.
       d. The Under Secretary, Assistant Secretary, or equivalent 
official's recommendation or approval of a conference validates that 
appropriate due diligence was conducted and that the business case for 
the event justifies the venue and the use of resources (financial, 
time, and people). Additionally, the Under, Assistant Secretary or 
equivalent is confirming that the Conference Certifying Official (CCO) 
(See Attachments 8, 9), and RCE (See Attachments11, 12), and all other 
planning personnel have adhered to all published guidance.This is an 
essential element of VA's oversight and conference execution practice 
to ensure VA maintains the public trust in the expenditure of public 
funds and that all possible measures have been taken to ensure 
compliance with applicable policies and regulations.

    8. Reporting Requirements: VA will continue to track and report 
conferences in accordance with Public Law 112-154, Section 707 and OMB 
M-12-12, datedMay 11, 2012.

       a. The data to be reported includes, but is not limited to: 
transportation and parking; per diem payments; lodging; rental of 
halls, auditoriums, or other spaces; rental of equipment; refreshments; 
entertainment; contractors; and brochures or other printed media. All 
current reporting requirements will continue to be based on established 
employee participation and dollar thresholds established above. Along 
with reporting prior fiscal quarter conference data, PL 112-154 also 
requires information on conference costs for VA sponsored or co-
sponsored conferences above $20,000 that are planned during the fiscal 
quarter in which the report is submitted.
       b. To accomplish the data collection and reporting activities 
associated with conference activity, the VA Chief Information Officer 
(CIO) will create a Web- based portal with initial operational 
capabilities (IOC) by October 1, 2012. Final system (after IOC) will 
include capabilities to allow for the capture, certification, and 
generation of standard and special purpose reports. The CIO will 
outline a plan with requirements and milestones to achieve full 
capability in 2013.
       c. This portal will allow for the capture of data elements 
required for reportingpurposes. Organizational CCOs and RCEs will be 
responsible for entering and certifying the accuracy of the data within 
15 days following the conclusion of each conference.

    9. Mandatory Individual Training: Leaders will ensure all employees 
and supervisors complete required training.

       a. All employees involved with the planning and implementation 
of conferences, including training events, are to undergo mandatory VA- 
approved ethics training. This requirement is also extended to all 
contract specialists. This training is available in VA's Talent 
Management System (TMS). The employee must view one of two videos, view 
the VA Ethics Contact list, and self-certify completion of both steps. 
The two videos are entitled "Inside Ethics" (TMS ID# 7505) and "Ethics 
Most Wanted" (TMS ID# 31726). Supervisors at all levels will ensure 
designated personnel within these categories complete training.
       b. VA's financial policy provides that all purchase card holders 
are required to take purchase card training every 2 years and pass a 
test upon completion of the training. This training (available in TMS) 
covers the proper use of the purchase card, following appropriation 
law, and specifically outlines prohibited uses, such as buying employee 
food or refreshments and splitting purchases. VA policy provides that 
if the cardholder's training is not current, the cardholder's Agency 
Organization Program Coordinator is required to immediately lower the 
card limit to $1 and request suspension of the cardholder's purchase 
card. Supervisors will ensure that purchase card approving officials 
have completed their required training. Senior leaders have the 
latitude to direct any subordinate having responsibility for the review 
and approval of funds for conferences or training sessions to complete 
this training. Supervisors at all levels will ensure designated 
personnel within these categories complete this training.
       c. VA financial policy also requires that all VA travel 
cardholders take travelcard training every 3 years and pass a test upon 
completion of the training. This training in TMS covers the appropriate 
use of the travel card and consequences that may result from 
inappropriate/misuse of the travel card. The policy provides that if 
the cardholder's training is not current, the credit limit is 
established at $1 until training has been completed. The travel card 
may be suspended or revoked for inappropriate use or misuse.

    10. Staffing: VA must ensure appropriate staffing for departmental 
oversight and reporting. The Office of Management, Office of General 
Counsel, Office of Acquisitions, Logistics, and Construction, and 
Office of the Secretary staffs will develop a concept of operation for 
combined efforts with recommendations for a joint organizational 
solution for these offices to ensure that public funds are being 
expended in the most efficient and appropriate manner possible as we 
execute our required training to better provide quality services and 
benefits to Veterans, their families, and survivors. This 
recommendation will be presented to the Chief of Staff no later than 
October 15, 2012. Administrations and Staff Offices will develop a 
concept of operation for implementation, and management and oversight 
of conferences to include staffing and resource requirements to be 
briefed to Chief of Staff no later than October 31, 2012.
    11. All conferences scheduled but not yet executed, regardless of 
any previous approvals, from this date forward will be reviewed to 
ensure compliance with these established standards for execution. Until 
organizational CCOs and RCEs are appointed, Senior Executive or SES-
equivalent leaders will perform the duties required and certify each 
conference. Approval timelines will be adjusted to ensure conferences 
within 90 days of the memorandum are appropriately approved at the 
correct levels.
    12. Lest we forget, we are guided by our VA I-CARE core values 
(Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence) as we 
conduct our daily duties serving Veterans. We are not immune to the 
mistakes made by those in the past. All conferences, meeting and 
training events are to be planned and executed to the highest ethical 
standards and in compliance with our values. We must be diligentto use 
our training resources prudently to carry out VA's sacred mission to 
serveVeterans.
    13. The points of contact for this policy and oversight memorandum 
are Dave Thomas at (202) 461-4873 and Jack Kammerer at (202) 461-4845.

    John R. Gingrich

    Attachments:

    1. VA Hosted or Co-Hosted Conference Request Guidance. This 
document provides guidance on the planning and execution phases, 
applicable references and resources. It is to be used by conference 
planners, CCOs, and RCEs.
    2. Conference Approval Process Flow Chart. This is a visual 
approval flow chart on theproper reviews and approvals needed to 
execute a conference based on established thresholds. This form should 
be used by all approving officials.
    3. Reporting and Approval Matrices for Conferences Hosted or Co-
Hosted by VA (or otherFederal or Non-Federal Entities). This form 
assists offices in understanding the various approval and reporting 
thresholds
    4. Conference Briefing and Reporting Milestones. This form assists 
offices with the various milestones associated with conference planning 
and reporting.
    5. Conference Request Memorandum Template. This form that will be 
used for Chief of Staff review and Secretary or Deputy Secretary 
approval. This form is to be used by staff members who are planning the 
conference.
    6. SECVA Conference Approval Waiver Template. This form is used for 
requestingapproval of any conference that will cost VA at least 
$500,000.
    7. Conference Certifying Official Appointment Memo. This form is 
used by Administrations and Staff Offices to appoint their CCO.
    8. VA Hosted or Co-Hosted Conference Proposal Checklist for 
Conference CertifyingOfficials. This form is used by the CCO as a 
nonexclusive list of items to ensure that the conference planning has 
been conducted in accordance with all applicable statutes, regulations, 
and policies. This is used in conjunction with the Conference 
Certification Form.
    9. Conference Certification Form Template. This form is used by the 
CCO to certify theconference's planning was conducted in accordance 
with all applicable statutes, regulations, and policies.
    10. Responsible Conference Executive Appointment Memo. This form is 
used byAdministrations and Staff Offices to appoint their RCE for 
appropriate covered conferences.
    11. Guidelines for Responsible Conference Executives. This form is 
used by the RCE as anonexclusive list of items to ensure that the 
approved conference is executed in accordance with all applicable 
statutes, regulations, and policies.
    12. Post-Conference Certification Form. This form is used by the 
RCE to certify that due diligence was exercised during the execution of 
the conference.
    13. Conference After Action Review (AAR) Report Template. This form 
is a suggestedtemplate to be used by the appropriate personnel for a 
formal review of the conference's planning and execution.
    14. Program Manager Appointment Memo. This form is used by the RCE 
to appoint a PM.