Video: Rep. Tammy Duckworth slams witness over shady veterans disability claim

I do not care what you think of Rep. Tammy Duckworth’s politics. Please watch all of this. It takes a moment to get going, but she incisively, fairly calmly, and with more authentically hard-earned moral authority than most of us can imagine, eviscerates a guy claiming a high-school football injury as a way to get preferred treatment meant for wounded vets in government contracting.

Castillo, president and CEO of an IT company called Strong Castle, reported a foot injury he sustained in 1984 at the U.S Military Academy Preparatory School, according to a report released by the committee. He was honorably discharged in his first year at the school, and later went on to play football at the University of San Diego as quarterback and linebacker.

Seeking to acquire a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business credential–designed by the Small Business Administration to help veterans apply for federal contracts–he listed his injury as his qualification. After reporting ongoing pain and treatment for his foot, Castillo was granted a 30% disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with the highest rating for injuries below the knee being 40%.

The really harsh part? When she points out that her devastating arm injury rates as a 20-percent disability.

Castillo had come under the suspicion of the House Oversight Committee for his involvement in yet another instance of IRS incompetence and malfeasance with our money. He seems to have gotten a $500 million IT contract thanks to shady claims, outright deceptions, and a close relationship with IRS brass. Castillo’s case also brings into question the very nature of the federal government’s set-aside programs for contractors, which in the past have incentivized setting up veterans, women, and minorities as “straw owners” to get contracts, and haven’t been subject to great oversight. Even worse, it seems, despite his obvious exaggeration of his injury and his service, he actually did qualify for a set-aside. Setting aside one’s philosophy on set-asides, I think we can all agree the most worthy among such programs are the ones that seek to help those who have been willing to give all in the service of this country. Because the federal government is inherently clumsy, sloppy, unaccountable, and often corrupt, we are unable to deliver on promises even to those to whom we owe most.

The vets program wasn’t the only one Castillo took advantage of:

Strong Castle was more devious still in seeking contracts through the government’s Historically Underutilized Business Zones (HUBZone) program, intended to create jobs in economically distressed areas. To qualify, the report says, Castillo opened an office in Washington, D.C.’s Chinatown and declared it Strong Castle’s principal location, even though he continued to work out of an office in a wealthy Virginia suburb. Rather than hire poor neighborhood residents, Strong Castle hired students at nearby Catholic University—who helped the company meet HUBZone requirements, even though the school’s annual tuition exceeds $36,000, according to the report.

Of course, if you really want to cheat to win government contracts, there’s nothing better than having a friend on the inside: The report says that Castillo’s decade-long friendship with IRS Deputy Director Greg Roseman was crucial to Strong Castle’s success winning contracts. Roseman invoked the Fifth Amendment in declining to answer questions during the hearing.

In studying the IRS’ practices in awarding contracts, which are meant to benefit poor areas, small businesses, and veterans, the House Oversight Committee found it’s not doing any of the above. But it’s all good. I’m sure a bunch of people sprained their arms patting themselves on the back for all the “good” they were doing. Who cares if it doesn’t actually work? This is the federal government! Mission accomplished. Thanks to the bipartisan duo of Rep. Darrell Issa and Rep. Duckworth for naming and shaming on this issue.

Oh, and in case you’re keeping score at home folks, there’s news of yet another lavish million-dollar conference for IRS employees in Atlanta in 2008, where they dressed up as Olympic athletes. With the booze, porn, and elaborate costumes, the IRS is pretty much just a super well-funded swingers club whose dues come from you. Congrats!