I know most of you are busy with all the comings and goings of the general election, but it’s worth taking a moment to recall that we still have a very serious problem with the VA and the care (to put it charitably) being received by our nation’s wounded warriors. The scandals at the agency have long since passed into legendary proportions, and they have been showing some improvements of late under the harsh sunlight of public scrutiny, but there’s clearly much more room for progress. Yet another distressing example of this has been dug up by the Daily Caller News Foundation this week and it has to do with a subject which probably isn’t one of the first to come to mind when you think of the Veterans Administration… interior designers. If you had to take a guess how many such artists are employed full time by the VA and how much they are spending on their decorating efforts I’m willing to bet it wouldn’t be anywhere close to the reality.
An army of 167 interior designers work at the Department of Veterans Affairs, picking window blind colors and buying millions of dollars of art each year, an investigation from The Daily Caller News Foundation has found.
The designers’ salaries are not included in recent findings that the VA has spent $16 million on art during the Obama administration. At least a dozen individual pieces of art cost a quarter million dollars or more each. Nearly $700,000 was spent on two sculptures at a hospital for blind veterans, the Palo Alto Polytrauma and Blind Rehabilitation Center.
At $100,000 in combined salaries and benefits — many actually make more — the cost of employing those 167 designers would add up to $17 million a year, or $136 million during the eight years of the Obama administration, making the salaries of the people in charge of picking out art dwarf even those art costs.
I understand that somebody has to pick out the desks and chairs when setting up and maintaining a VA office, but with all of their many shortcomings and protests about how a lack of funding is hampering their efforts at reform, one might imagine that some reasonable limits would be in place. Do they really need nearly 170 full time interior designers raking in $17M per year? The actual interior design work should be completed when a new office is brought online and then perhaps once every decade or so if the facility is in need of major refurbishment. What are these interior designers doing in the meantime? And couldn’t a smaller number of them be dispatched from one site to another as needed? (The Cleveland VA hospital has five on staff, while the Dallas and Pittsburgh offices have three each. Full time.)
We’re also left to wonder just how lavish these offices need to be. The Daily Caller found that the San Juan VA office has spent $600K on artwork in just the last six years. If the VA is really looking to hire somebody to save them some money I’d wager that I could pick up some very nice framed paintings and posters at Sears and Office Depot to brighten up a dozen VA facilities for ten grand and have money left over for new carpeting in one of them.
The VA isn’t making any serious effort to open up their books and cut out the fat while maximizing resources put toward helping our veterans. If they were it wouldn’t take the efforts of the media to expose wasteful practices such as this. There is still nobody being held accountable at the highest levels in the VA and the administration is simply closing ranks to protect their friends while paying some lip service to reforms at press conferences.