House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to be "fundamentally turned on its head" during remarks made in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.
Speaking at the Conservative Reform Network’s "Room to Grow: A Series" launch at Google’s offices in the district, McCarthy discussed entrepreneurship in the United States and the need for innovation in the federal government.
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The California lawmaker cited the VA as an an example of the need for reform in government agencies.
"The VA has severe problems," McCarthy said. "We’ve done everything we could to change it. We’ve changed the secretary; we’ve changed the rules, we’ve given them a tremendous amount more money and the wait times are even longer."
McCarthy pointed to what he considers the illogical structure of the VA, which prevents incompetent employees from being held accountable. Rep. Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) has sought to resolve the issue in the wake of the fake waitlist scandal by introducing a bill that would allow Robert McDonald, the agency’s secretary, to remove or demote a VA employee on the grounds of poor performance or misconduct.
Miller expressed skepticism earlier this month that McDonald even wants such power. President Obama threatened Wednesday to veto the legislation, labeling it "counterproductive."
"You know what happens in the VA system? You can’t get rid of anybody," McCarthy said. "The structure does not allow you to do that. … One person has been fired in this process about that wait time, [but] she didn’t get fired because she didn’t do the wait time right. She did something illegal somewhere else. They couldn’t even fire her for the incompetence."
"You have a structure that’s designed to be dysfunctional and you get a dysfunctional outcome and you wonder, ‘Why do I have to do it?’ Oh, it's government. We should put up with it—no," McCarthy said. "That’s why I think it needs to be fundamentally turned on its head to be able to go forward."
He also complained of the $3 billion deficit in the VA budget that the agency reported to Congress weeks late due to technological incompetence. If lawmakers do not sort out the budget fiasco, some VA hospital operations could be shut down.
"Before we leave this week, we have to give the VA $3.3 billion more," McCarthy said. "They were before committee less than a month ago and they never mentioned that they were going to have a $3 billion deficit this year. But a week later they come back and say, My God, we didn’t realize this. So you ask the question, Why didn’t you realize this? Well, we have two computer systems."
"The answer is not just to feed them more money," he continued. "Turn it upside on its head."
From an entrepreneurial perspective, McCarthy explained, the VA should not be spending federal money on "bricks and mortars" to build additional facilities but should instead find a way to provide a greater choice of hospitals at which the nation’s veterans can receive care.
"How long do we have to accept the dysfunctional government?" he asked.
In a more general discussion of the place for innovation in Washington, McCarthy called for the branches of government to become "co-equal," citing the REINS Act, which passed the House on Tuesday, as a way that Congress can achieve a level playing field with the executive branch.
The legislation, formally known as the Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, would require Congress to approve all federal regulations with at least $100 million in annual economic impact.
"You might think that’s no big deal, but if you want to start a company, its probably one of the biggest deals [in terms of] whether you can enter the market," McCarthy said of the bill.
President Obama has in the past threatened to veto such legislation.