Grassley Seeks Answers on Why Department of Veterans Affairs Spent $20 Million on Art
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa today asked the Department of Veterans Affairs why it has spent $20 million on art in recent years, despite backlogs for patient care.
“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was created with the aim of caring for those who have served to protect the United States, by honoring their faithful service and providing healthcare for the injuries sustained in that service. The funds that are given to the VA are intended to further this goal and ensure that our nation’s veterans are properly taken care of,” Grassley wrote to Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “Our veterans deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. Recent media reports have cast doubt on the VA’s focus on our veterans. Leaving hundreds of thousands of veterans on waitlists while spending so much money on artwork undermines the American people’s faith in the VA.”
Grassley cited the reporting of OpenTheBooks.com on Forbes.com, describing $20 million on high-end art between 2004 and 2014, with approximately $16 million of that spending occurring during the Obama Administration. Projects included three separate installations and art consultants for $1,149,335 at the Palo Alto VA; a 27 foot Christmas tree for $21,000; at the San Francisco VA facility, $32,000 on “local image” pictures; at the Anchorage, Alaska, facility, sculptures and other pieces that totaled $195,000; and at the Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center, a sculpture and commissioned an exterior wall façade for $670,000.
“The money used for this art could have gone toward providing better care for our veterans,” Grassley wrote. Grassley noted that since the revelations regarding the VA waitlists two years ago, an additional 39,454 new positions have been added to the department’s payroll. “Yet, despite the very real backlog problem, only one in 11 of these positions are ‘Medical Officers,’ “ Grassley wrote.
Grassley asked the VA to explain the status of its rules for high-end art procurement, which it said would be changed in the future, including all relevant documentation, and an explanation of “the changes that will be instituted to ensure that this type of waste will not continue and provide an estimated timeline for implementation.”
He also asked for a description, for each VA facility, of the type of employee who ultimately has the authority to authorize the purchase of art, and an explanation of any checks and balances on these decisions.
Grassley also sought from 2004 to 2014, how much of the VA’s funds were budgeted for art purchases and how much was actually spent. He asked whether the VA has looked into whether or not any rules, regulations, or laws were violated by the purchase of the art, and if so, for the conclusion, and if not, why not.
Grassley has a long, successful record as a taxpayer watchdog, including his co-authorship of the amendments improving the whistleblower component of the federal False Claims Act. Those provisions have helped to return billions of dollars to the federal treasury that otherwise would have been lost to fraud.
Grassley has worked to improve veterans’ care, including mental health care. This week, he led a letter from three senators to the VA Office of Inspector General seeking an accounting of what happened to an Iowa veteran who committed suicide after reportedly seeking VA care and not receiving needed services.
Grassley’s letter to the VA on artwork is available here.