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VA's $562,000 art purchase questioned

Oct. 7, 2013 - 05:04PM   |  
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A Kansas senator wants an explanation why the Veterans’ Affairs Department spent $562,000 on art work during the final days of fiscal year 2013.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., a member of the Senate veterans’ affairs and appropriations committees, says he can think of a lot better places to spend that money, like reducing the backlog of benefits claims or filling vacancies in outpatient clinics in Kansas and in other rural states.

“Among these many other problems before the VA, it is very troubling that appropriations were not put to better use,” Moran said in a Monday letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

Shinkseki has not yet responded to the letter. Calls to VA questioning the expense were not returned, possibly because the department is short-staffed because the government has been operating under a partial shutdown since the start of fiscal 2014 on Oct. 1.

The art expenditure appears to be an example of the use-it-or-lose it spending process at the end of the fiscal year throughout federal agencies, and the money likely would not have been available for VA to spending on claims processing or outpatient clinic staffs, at least not without permission from Congress to shift the money between accounts.

Still, Moran said the expense looks wrong considering the efforts to cut costs. “At a time when the nation’s crushing debt threatens the well-being of our veterans and all Americans, and when spending across the government is being reduced, I fail to comprehend the reason why this purchase was authorized,” Moran said in the letter.

It doesn’t help VA’s image that since it spent that half million dollars, department officials have warned VA could run out of money to pay disability, survivor and education benefits by the end of the month and that processing of benefits claims has slowed.

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