Paralyzed Veterans of America Testifies on Advance Appropriations Legislation

Independent Budget coverOn July 17, 2013, Paralyzed Veterans of America testified on behalf of the co-authors of The Independent Budget—AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars—before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  The Committee considered three bills:  H.R. 813, the “Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013;” H.R. 806; and, H.R. 2704, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2013.”  These bills are meant to put funding for all VA programs in a more stable position while requiring more strategic planning for VA funding in the future. 

H.R. 813 is bipartisan legislation introduced by VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Ranking Member Mike Michaud (D-ME).  This legislation would authorize advance appropriations for all VA discretionary accounts:  Medical and Prosthetic Research, General Operating Expenditures, Information Technology, National Cemetery Administration, Inspector General, Major Construction, Minor Construction, State Home Construction Grants, State Cemetery Grants and Other Discretionary Accounts.  While the enactment of advance appropriations authority for VA medical care has been successful in helping the VA health care system operate more efficiently and rationally during budget stalemates, the remaining VA budget accounts continue to be negatively affected by unrelated political and partisan fights.  The Independent Budget for Fiscal Year 2014 recommends that Congress debate and considers authorizing advance appropriations for all VA accounts.  With this in mind, we fully support the proposed legislation. 

H.R. 806, introduced by Representative Julia Brownley (D-CA), would make permanent the requirement that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) continue to study and report on VA’s budget submissions.  This bill reflects a specific recommendation called for in The Independent Budget.  Paralyzed Veterans also emphasized that should H.R. 813 be enacted, it would be necessary to revise H.R. 806 to provide additional flexibility to enable GAO to study and report on all VA funding provided through advance appropriations.

Much of the discussion during the hearing centered around H.R. 2704.  This legislation would establish new planning and budgeting processes as well as study and make organizational changes affecting VA’s ability to develop and implement budgets and strategic plans.  Of the provisions of the legislation, Paralyzed Veterans focused on a couple of particular concerns.  First, the draft bill, beginning in 2017, would require VA to conduct a Quadrennial Veterans Review (QVR) every four years, modeled after the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) currently required by law.  We are concerned that a strategic planning framework designed specifically for the Department of Defense (DOD) and later adopted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not necessarily appropriate for VA.  There are fundamental differences between DOD and VA (and also between DHS and VA) that raise concerns about whether VA should be required to use the same planning structures and methods designed specifically to evaluate DOD’s future roles and missions following the end of the Cold War.  While the worldwide threats and missions associated with those threats are always evolving requiring constant reevaluation by DOD and DHS, the fundamental roles and missions of VA and veterans policies rarely, if ever, need to shift so quickly or dramatically based on external events or influences.  While presidential elections may often lead to large swings in national security policy, our nation’s longstanding commitment to veterans has remained clear and steadfast for at least 150 years.

Second, the bill would require VA to develop and submit annually a Future-Years Veterans Program (FYVP), which is modeled after the Future-Years Defense Program (FYDP) and the Future-Years Homeland Security Program (FYHSP).  The FYVP would lay out a five-year plan for meeting the nation’s commitment to veterans as well as delineate the resources necessary to meet that commitment.  The FYVP would include five-year estimates of the budget and appropriations levels on a program element basis in order to ensure that resources properly align with outcome-based plans and programs.  The FYVP would be submitted concurrent with VA’s annual budget submission and the draft bill would require that it be consistent with funding requests contained in the Administration’s budget submission.  The draft bill would also require that the Future-Years Veterans Program be coordinated with the Quadrennial Veterans Review, which serves as the foundation for developing the FYVP’s five-year plans.

However, it is not clear whether the creation of a Future-Years Veterans Program would lead to either more transparent or more accurate budgets or appropriations.  Although the QDR and QHR are readily available online, it does not appear that the FYDP or the FYHSP are similarly available, calling into question the transparency that might be produced by this legislation.  Moreover, we are concerned that the FYVP budget assessment could lead to permanent benchmarks for VA funding that never are fully reevaluated for sufficiency in the out years. 

Given the many questions that we raised during the hearing, the co-authors of The Independent Budget withheld support for the bill.  To read the complete written statement for this hearing submitted to the House VA Committee, please visit this link

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