The Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $300,000 on televisions that have sat unused in storage for more than two years.
The John. D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit, Michigan, bought 300 televisions in September 2013 as part of a project to overhaul the patient TV system at the hospital. However, a recent probe by the agency’s inspector general found that VA officials purchased televisions that were incompatible with the wiring installed during the renovations, so 282 of them—costing $292,000—have been boxed up in storage for two and a half years.
Officials at the Detroit VA did not communicate with the contractor "in a timely manner" to make sure that the TVs the agency bought were right for the project, the inspector general found. The agency was forced to modify the contract by adding $19,000 in additional funds to change the project specifications to accommodate the televisions.
The hospital still had not selected a contractor to install the televisions as of June, when the inspector general completed the probe.
"The TVs and related accessories should have been purchased closer to award of the construction contract. By purchasing these items well before a construction contract to install them was awarded, the facility exposed itself to unnecessary financial risk in the event it did not proceed with the project," the inspector general wrote.
"By purchasing too early in the process, the facility has also allowed valuable warranties to expire, increasing the risk of incurring additional expenses to replace any faulty TVs."
The watchdog also said that the VA facility may have violated the government’s "bona fide needs rule" by using federal dollars available in fiscal 2013 to pay for needs in a future year.
"By purchasing these items at least 2 1/2 years before a construction contract to install them was awarded, the Detroit VAMC prevented the use of about $292,500 that could have been better spent on other facility priorities," the report stated.
The inspector general pressed local VA leaders to implement a plan to use the televisions, and will monitor their efforts.
The VA has recently been scrutinized for spending federal dollars on seemingly misguided priorities as veterans continue to face waits and other insufficiencies at the agency’s nationwide network of hospitals.
"If VA’s job was mismanaging money, it would have a near-perfect record of achievement," Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.), the House Veterans Affairs Committee chair, told the Washington Free Beacon in a statement. "Yet despite this and other high-profile budgetary failures, all too often the department’s knee-jerk response to challenges is to ask taxpayers for more money. This is more proof the department doesn’t have a money problem, it has a management problem."
A recent investigation found that the agency has spent $20 million on high-end art over the last decade. During that period, veterans died waiting for care as VA staffers kept secret lists to hide long wait times. The revelation drew ire from members of Congress, including Miller, who last week wrote to VA Secretary Robert McDonald demanding information on the VA’s roughly 167 interior designers. Miller has also threatened to subpoena the agency over its art spending.
Last week, the Washington Free Beacon reported that the VA has spent more than $408 million on projects to install solar panels at its facilities since 2010, many of which have been significantly delayed.
At the start of August, more than 513,000 veterans had waited 30 days or more for care at VA hospitals nationwide, including over 36,000 patients who had waited longer than four months for appointments, according to data published by the agency.