Federal Job Fairness Agency Faulted


The EEOC enforces all federal anti-discrimination job protections including the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, for local, state and private employees. Although no federal law prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, some HIV-positive people are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Also, the 1996 ruling in Romer v. Evans—which threw out Colorado’s Amendment 2 barring any state or local sexual orientation nondiscrimination measures—established that gay and lesbian plaintiffs can use the equal protection provisions of the 14th Amendment to litigate discrimination claims.
The EEOC plan calls for expanding jurisdictional areas of several district offices, but reducing the number of those offices from 23 to15, as well as increasing the number of field offices from one to nine and adding two new local offices in Las Vegas and Mobile, Alabama. The intention is to reduce the number of administrators and grow the staff involved in conducting investigations and litigation.
“Given the shifting demographics, changing business environment, explosive technological advancements, and budgetary considerations of our times, this plan will recast the Commission in a stronger and more viable position to carry out its mission,” said Cari Dominguez, the EEOC chairwoman, in a recent press release.
The reorganization has been a matter of dispute since it was announced. The redistricting plan was first to be voted on at a commission meeting on March 24.
According to Andrea Brooks the vice president for Women and Fair Practices at AFGE, the public announcement of that March meeting was only made 24 hours in advance, and no public comment on the plan was ever sought.
AFGE sued the commission to stop the meeting under a government sunshine law that requires at least ten-day notice of such a meeting. Although the case is still pending, the EEOC board of commissioners decided to seek “public input” until June 22, instead of making a final decision in March.
“They didn’t want to have their plans overturned in court because they weren’t following the law,” Brooks said.
“They will be consolidating and closing offices. It’s going to be more difficult to find EEOC in the neighborhood,” said Gabriel Martin, president of the National Council of EEOC Locals, a group established by AFGE to monitor EEOC effectiveness on the ground nationwide. “It will definitely diminish a local presence, and make people in under-represented areas like Montana or Wyoming more vulnerable.”
Martin said the reduction of field offices, and spreading of their duties to the remaining field offices, will mean less staff to process complaints, which the EEOC admits are backlogged by about 30,000. The reorganization would also dramatically increase the cas loads of some offices. The San Francisco district office will have the population area it serves increased by 84 percent.
According to the EEOC Web site, the staff at those offices eliminated will be transferred to front-line positions.
The reorganization is the second part of a three-part process the EEOC has undertaken to fulfill Pres. George W. Bush’s order to make federal agencies more customer and results-oriented. The first step in that process established a National Call Center where people could register complaints. The third will be a streamlined Washington, D.C. office.
Opponents of the EEOC reorganization direct particular criticism to the newly established call center. Brooks said the call center approach now in affect trivializes complaints, and turns what should be a very personal, affirmative process into a confrontation with a faceless bureaucracy. Previously, complainants could speak directly to an investigator, but the call center is staffed with personnel who are required to receive only a few weeks of training.
“In our opinion, they are dismantling the organization,” Brooks charged. “They have been under a hiring freeze for the past three years. They don’t ask for enough money to replace staff, and judges and attorneys are forced to do all their own clerical work. And now they are decreasing the ability of the EEOC to investigate and pursue complaints.”
According to critics, the EEOC has not released any information regarding how it determined what offices and positions would be eliminated or created, and therefore, interested parties have been unable to objectively evaluate the plan.
At the final public hearing held in Washington, D.C. prior to the commission vote on July 8, EEOC Chairwoman Dominguez listened as the agency’s field program officer, Nicholas Inzeo, acknowledged that some of the information about how the reorganization was conceived that had been made available to the public was out of date, although he did not specify what information.
At the same meeting, representatives of the NAACP complained they had yet to be given any data justifying the scope and size of the reorganization.
This week even Congress weighed in. The Senate appropriations committee, which oversees the EEOC, issued a statement critical of the agency in its 2006 appropriations bill for the Departments of Commerce and Justice and related agencies.
“The committee remains concerned over the pending Equal Opportunity Employment commission repositioning plan and its impact on the Commission’s ability to perform its investigations and enforcement duties,” the report said.
The report also took the Commission to task for its rush to vote without public input.
“Until all interested parties have an opportunity to have their comments heard, the Committee also expects the Commission to take into consideration those public comments prior to any vote of the Commissioners,” the congressional report concluded.
Despite this recommendation, the EEOC Web site now declares that the public comment period is over.
The Senate committee also instructed the EEOC to submit a full analysis of the commission’s current investigations and enforcement, and any changes that might result before it implements its reorganization plan.
Questions to the EEOC press office about the reorganization were simply referred to the agency’s Web site.
Regarding the question of how the reorganization decision was made the Web site says only, “the criteria... included factors such as workload, economics of scale, changes in population, demographics, geographic proximities, and employment data.”

http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0705/070705r1.htm

Union employees at Commerce opt for pay-for-performance
By Karen Rutzick
krutzick@govexec.com
Federal labor unions have expressed concerns about proposals to implement pay-for-performance systems across government. But employees from two labor union chapters are voluntarily participating in a pay-for-performance demonstration underway at the Commerce Department.
The pay-for-performance system links employee compensation to perceived performance on the job. This approach is an alternative to the government's General Schedule, which does not factor performance in the same way.
Commerce's system is part of a demonstration project run by the Office of Personnel Management. Implemented in 1998, the five-year trial has since received an indefinite extension, according to OPM spokesman Michael Orenstein.
The project is one of several used by officials as the basis for the pending Homeland Security and Defense departments' pay-for-performance overhauls.
The two bargaining units whose employees made this decision are the Washington Printing and Graphic Communications Union Local 1-C in Maryland, whose parent organization is the Graphics Communication Conference, and the Boulder, Colo., Local 2186 Chapter of the American Federation of Government Employees.
Paul Harvey, president of AFGE Local 2186 and a carpenter for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, says the members made the switch because they think they can get more money with a pay-for-performance system.
"I thought it would be a good deal," Harvey said. "I thought the demo program would give them additional income."
About 20 police officers in the Office of Security are part of the demonstration. They provide security for property of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration in the Commerce Department, according to Harvey.
He said his union members saw that NIST employees around them, who have a pay-for-performance system, "move up the pay scale quite a bit." The financial benefits, Harvey said, include a locality cost-of-living increase for living in an expensive city like Boulder.
Not all union members in Commerce are happy to be part of the system. In 2003, for example, members of the National Weather Service Employees Organization filed a request with the Federal Service Impasses Panel to get out of the system.
The request stated that the union's "preferred outcome is that employees cease participation in the demonstration project" and return to the General Schedule. The union argued that a survey showed that 62 percent of its members wanted to return to the GS system.
The national AFGE organization has mixed thoughts on pay for performance as well.
"If there's enough money...to give higher performance increases, that's fine," AFGE Labor Relations Specialist Terry Rosen said. "The problems come when there isn't enough money to do that, but instead, in order to give one person more money, you have to take away" money from other employees.
Rosen also said that there are difficulties in actually determining performance levels among workers, as well as resentment among employees who are paid different amounts.
Representatives from the Printing and Graphics Communication union could not be reached for comment.

http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0705/070705cdpm2.htm

House, Senate spar on protecting DHS whistleblowers
By Alyson Klein, CongressDaily
House and Senate lawmakers offering legislation to protect federal government whistleblowers are split over whether the provisions should apply to workers at the Homeland Security Department.
Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee and federal employee unions are urging Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., to adopt the Senate's version of the measure, sponsored by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine. That bill would apply to nearly all government employees -- except those who work in intelligence, counterintelligence or at the Transportation Security Administration.
But the House bill, sponsored by Government Reform Government Management, Finance and Accountability Subcommittee Chairman Todd Platts, R-Pa., also would make an exception for Homeland Security personnel. It would give those agencies the authority to determine if the provision applied to their employees.
The House panel was slated to consider the bill last month -- but postponed the markup because of concerns on the part of Government Reform ranking member Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and opposition from federal employee unions.
A Davis spokesman said negotiations are ongoing and the panel's leaders "remain open to working with the minority and whistleblower groups to get a bill that can be approved sometime in the near future." The spokesman added, "Agencies that primarily conduct foreign intelligence and counterintelligence activities have never had the same whistleblower protections as others because of national security concerns." But Waxman said he strongly opposes the "language allowing the president to waive whistleblower rights for employees who deal with homeland security."
Davis' spokesman declared, "As much as some folks would love to claim that we were pulling a fast one, the provision's been there since the bill's introduction and the committee unanimously reported a bill with the same provision during the 108th Congress." He said the markup was put off because "Democrats were confused and apparently didn't know what language had long been in the bill. We felt it was best to give them time to bone up on the legislation."
But Waxman said that provision was slipped into a manager's amendment during the markup last year. He said the majority's description of the amendment was inaccurate, adding, "If that provision had come to light last year, I would have strongly opposed the provision and fought to delete it from the legislation."
Meanwhile, union advocates say they are "taking their cues" from champions of the Senate bill -- Collins and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii -- on what to expect in the final version. Beth Moten, legislative director for the American Federation of Government Employees -- the largest federal employee union -- said her organization is not willing to endorse the House bill as written but could not say what compromises are acceptable for the final version.

http://www.seacoastonline.com/news/07072005/news/51527.htm

Workers, supporters a colorful presence
By Michael McCord
mmccord@seacoastonline.com

ON INTERSTATE 95 - While sitting on a school bus from Pease International Tradeport to the Base Realignment Commission hearing in Boston, Tom Brown said he wasn’t about to miss this journey.
Brown, a retired Portsmouth Naval Shipyard worker who now works as an outside contractor at PNS, lives in Somersworth. He went to the BRAC hearing with his wife, Diane. They were both wearing yellow "Save Our Shipyard" T-shirts, and Brown remembered taking a similar trip to Boston a decade before.
"I was there when George Mitchell made his speech," Brown said of the presentation in 1995 by the former U.S. senator from Maine. "I thought that made a big difference. I believe that someone will make the key speech today."
Later in the day, after he returned home, Brown said the key speech he was looking for came from Vice Adm. Al Konetzni.
Konetzni had talked to the BRAC commissioners about the strategic value of PNS.
"I was impressed, and his input was very objective. I think he can be seen as unbiased, and this separates him from the politicians," Brown said.
Overall, Brown said he believes that the presentations made by the supporters of PNS show that the Pentagon "had fabricated data to fit their pre-determined decision" to close PNS.
Brown said the presentation convinced him more than ever "that it would be completely illogical to close the shipyard."
During the ride from Portsmouth to Boston, PNS worker John Joyal occasionally led the cheers on his bus as it sped through areas where traffic had been stopped by the state police so the large convoy of buses could proceed seemingly unstopped from the New Hampshire line to the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
Joyal, who has worked at the shipyard for 29 years, also wanted to wave an American flag out the bus window, but the driver wouldn’t allow it for safety reasons.
Joyal said his job at the shipyard was "to train the best welders in the world" and that his concern about the possible closure of PNS is as much about patriotism as it is about saving the livelihoods of his fellow workers.
"I’m a patriot, and the strong support you see today is a real slice of American life," said Joyal, who lives in Somersworth and is a union officer for Local 2024 of American Federation of Government Employees.
"I know that closing the shipyard is a stupid thing to do because it leaves (America) unsafe," he said. "Who knows how much of a military build-up China will have?"
Joyal said the BRAC process was "a political thing," but that he had faith in the Congressional delegations of Maine and New Hampshire to make a "very solid case and let the facts speak for themselves."
Joyal remembers in 1995, during that year’s base-closure round, there were plenty of banners saying "The Navy Knows Best."
"We trusted them, but we don’t know now. And they don’t make those banners anymore."
After the hearing, Joyal estimated that more than 4,000 shipyard supporters had put on the yellow T-shirts and made the trip to Boston.
The presenters "showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Navy used flawed data and the wrong criteria" when it came to recommending that PNS be closed.
"I was optimistic before the (base closure) list came out May 13," Joyal said. "And I’m more optimistic tonight (after the presentations). We got to hear the facts, and I believe they made a strong impression" on the BRAC commissioners.
"We are a national asset," he said.
Jane Kavanaugh, of Dover, wanted to know, like many at the hearing, why the Pentagon stopped retired Rear Adm. William Klemm from testifying.
Kavanaugh, an elementary school counselor in Barrington, doesn’t have a direct connection to PNS, but said it was important to support the people of the shipyard and see the hearing for herself.
The day "was a very powerful day in a lot of ways," Kavanaugh said. "I was impressed by the testimony and it convinced me that (PNS) maybe got a raw deal."
Kavanaugh also said she was moved by the sheer volume "of people who took a day off to do what they did to show their sincerity and devotion."
Like many who left the Boston convention center, Kavanaugh said she was "more optimistic" about the shipyard’s future.
WHAT THE PENTAGON DIDN’T WANT THE BRAC COMMISSION TO HEAR
Following is the full testimony that retired Rear Adm. William Klemm would have delivered to the BRAC Commission Wednesday, had he not been stopped from doing so by the Pentagon:
Statement of RADM Wiliam Klemm, USN (Ret) before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Portsmouth Naval Shipyard: Industrial Analysis Boston, Mass. July 6, 2005
Mr. chairman and members of the BRAC Commission, good afternoon, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today. My name is William R. Klemm. I retired on April 1 of this year with the rank of Rear Admiral after 41 years in the United States Navy. For the final four years of my service I served as director of Logistics, Maintenance and Industrial Operations Directorate (SEA 04). In that capacity I was accountable for all public and private shipyard performance and operations and was responsible for the cost effective execution of industrial work for naval surface and subsurface assets.
For 13 years I have worked directly in public and private shipyards, including assignments as repair officer, planning officer and production officer, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and as commander, Norfolk Naval Shipyard from 1994-1997. In addition, I served as the funding claimant of the industrial complex as Deputy Chief of Staff, Fleet Maintenance of the Pacific Fleet for two years, and served as director of the Ehime Maru deep water recovery project from April through November 2001 after a submarine collision with the Japanese fishing vessel off the coast of Hawaii.
As director (SEA 04), I was responsible for the long-term vitality of the marine industrial base for all Navy organic and private sector assets surface and subsurface. In the interest of full disclosure, I am here as a private citizen and have not been compensated, other than for travel expenses, to be here today. I must also note, as a participant in parts of the BRAC decision-making process in my final position as director (SEA 04), I have not and can not discuss any of those deliberations.
Navy Submarine Depot Maintenance
My colleague, Vice Admiral Al Konetzni has just described the issues related to force structure which are substantial. I am here to discuss the impact that an industrial capacity reduction will have on the ability of the Navy to meet its needs and requirements. The dynamic that the Navy has been facing regarding force structure for the last few years and will face through this Future Years Defense Plan is to preserve that which is allocated to us.
Planned Maintenance
In a nutshell, submarines require maintenance over their life cycle which for Los Angeles Class (SSN 688) and Virginia Class (SSN 774) submarines is approximately 30 to 33 years. For 688s, the first major maintenance work, termed a "CNO availability," occurs at the 10-year mark, and is called a Depot Modernization Period (DMP) (14 month notional duration). At the approximately 20-year mark the 688 class reactor must be refueled during an Engineered Refueling Overhaul (ERO) (2-year notional). Finally, at the 20-year mark, 688s require an Engineered Overhaul (EOH) (18-month notional).
In between these availabilities, shorter maintenance projects called Selected Restricted Availabilities (SRA) for 2-3 months, and IMAVs for 2-3 weeks, maintain the boat and add smaller modernization packages. The Virginia Class submarine does not require a refueling overhaul, but will require SRA and DMP equivalent availabilities to execute life-cycle maintenance which must be completed by a naval shipyard.
Even in a world of unlimited funds, the matching of maintenance projects to shipyard artisans and drydocks is equally important. Without shipyard capacity to get work done, projects are not executed. Failure to execute these availabilities on time will render the submarine unseaworthy and therefore, unavailable to the warfighter.
Unplanned Events
Intentionally not calculated in maintenance planning is the inevitable or historically proven workload growth and unplanned events inherent in naval operations. During my tenure in maintenance leadership, in addition to execution year growth in planned workload, four recent catastrophic events illustrate the impact on and importance of our shipyard assets. The USS Greenville collided with a civilian fishing vessel, the USS Hartford grounded, the USS Dolphin flooded and caught fire, and the USS San Francisco collided with an uncharted seamount.
Naval Shipyard Maintenance Performance History
The availability of drydocks and skilled employees to deal with these unplanned events was created through reprioritization of organic resources and rescheduling of planned availabilities. Although these events are costly to recover from and typically impact ongoing overhauls at the responding naval shipyards, some reasonable measure of surge must be available to prevent every casualty from causing a domino effect through the naval submarine maintenance community. NSY surge capability is only resident in the use of work force overtime. Loss of any of our critical skilled people at this time will substantially reduce our ability to meet emergent or surge requirements. In addition, near full drydock utilization resulting from a naval shipyard closure over the next 5 years would effectively reduce available force structure by holding these operational assets hostage to facilities and/or skills shortfalls. The potential for future recovery of force structure in the out years will be directly impacted and our flexibility to respond to emergent requirements will be severely limited.
Increased Wear on Declining Submarine Force
Assets under greater operational strain especially if forward deployed are typically run harder and longer. The obvious result is that maintenance requirements accrue more rapidly and are delayed longer. Based on an increasing demand on the fewer submarines of the force structure plan, there will be an increasing maintenance backlog as an inevitable outcome. Those assets will require more funding and time off-line for reconstitution, in essence increasing notional duration and cost. This will further exacerbate the workload capacity and drydock availability issues.
Leadership — Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
As the flag officer responsible for addressing this "bow wave" of maintenance requirements with the limited resources of a declining submarine industrial base, I challenged the industrial infrastructure for solutions. Portsmouth Naval Shipyard responded to the challenge with a clear, leadership vision implemented through several initiatives which have enjoyed resounding success.
Lead Yard
Portsmouth is the Navy’s lead yard for Los Angeles Class submarines. Based on their superior performance on cost and schedule, the Navy invested in them the authority to experiment with process improvements and charged them with exportation of those processes to the other public and private submarine shipyards. Portsmouth developed procedures and documented them in the form of written guidance to the other shipyards. Portsmouth is the "innovation cell" for the new submarine maintenance processes based on their culture of continuous process improvement. As the lead yard, they have provided design input to Electric Boat for the Virginia Class maintenance plan. In my opinion, that culture cannot be exported or replicated, it is imbedded in the generations of people who work at this facility. Therefore, the loss of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard equates to an irreplaceable loss of the culture and skill sets of innovation and efficiency.
Innovation on a National Level
In response to increasing demands for skilled labor and decreasing budgets, the concept of workforce sharing between the six nuclear capable shipyards was born several years ago. Utilizing the skill sets unique to each yard, the Navy established a virtual 911 network in the form of a corporate resources planning team to match unique skills to nationwide demand. Since 2003, an average of 300 workers per day have been employed in shipyards other than their own to resolve trade skills shortages and aid in keeping ship schedules and cost on track. The long pole in the tent for any submarine maintenance availability today is people. Other yards routinely require the skills of specialized workers and managers from Portsmouth to fill their critical shortages.
Safety
Portsmouth has the Navy’s only organic OSHA STAR safety program, making it the safest organic shipyard and one of only two such rated major shipyards in the nation. That translates directly to a reduction in the cost impact to the Navy in worker compensation claims. Safety is a cultural issue in the marine industry, and must be viewed not in a 1-year or 5-year perspective but over a 40-year industry view of a compensation program. PNS contributes to industry-wide savings by protecting the health and welfare of her workforce and establishing process standards for other shipyards while setting the bar higher for the nation’s public and private shipyard employees
Skill Requirements
The blue collar nuclear workforce typically spends 8 to 10 years acquiring their skillsets. They begin with a four-year Department of Labor apprenticeship program, followed by 2 years of journeyman experience then 2 more years of specific nuclear training. My point is that these workers are simply not available in the national labor pool, public or private. They must be trained in the shipyard in which they will be employed. Moreover, the assumption that a large number of workers from a naval shipyard undergoing closure will relocate to other shipyards is not substantiated by the experience of the previous BRAC round shipyard closures.
Any discussion regarding moving of workload must consider the replacement or augmentation of the corporate naval shipyard workforce. The loss of the Portsmouth workforce will result in the need to hire a large number of apprentices at the remaining naval shipyards. The new hires will not have adequate training for 8 to 10 years. during this time the efficiency and quality of work performed by these new hires is significantly lower than for the highly-skilled tradesmen lost in New England.
There are obviously significant costs associated with the process — hiring, training, and experience — but more important is the impact of the loss of timeliness and quality on our maintenance operations and trickle down in the reduction of operational time available per submarine.
Where We Are Today — Maintenance Capacity Fundamental to Maintaining Force Structure
Even with all of the innovation and leadership provided by Portsmouth Naval Shipyard over the last several years, the Navy, as an enterprise, is not meeting cost and schedule requirements. For the most part this problem exists at Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. These shipyards have been the most affected by fleet reprioritization of their work to support the military naval concentrations in the Pacific. Closure of Portsmouth will only exacerbate the skilled shortages you can clearly see on this chart in red. The remaining three shipyards, from a workforce and facilities perspective, do not have the resources required to accomplish submarine depot maintenance availabilities within the prescribed periods of a submarine’s service life. Faced with the inability to accomplish this work, the Navy will have to keep submarines pierside in non-operational status until skilled artisans and drydocks become available or schedule them for inactivation. The bottom line is that, regardless of the Department of Defense’s Force Structure Plan or budget, the closure of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, at this time, constitutes an irrevocable decision to reduce current force structure. Ironically, rather than optimizing infrastructure to support required military force structure, this closure recommendation, if supported by the commission, will result in a reduction in size of the SSN Fleet through a backlog on maintenance actions over the next five years.
Conclusion:
There is a misconception that because Los Angeles Class refuelings are ending, there is an immediate reduction in the workload requirement. I can assure you that the current DoD Force Structure Plan requires the workforce of all four public shipyards to accomplish the work I have described over the next five years.
Closure of a naval shipyard during this Future Years Defense Plan will effectively reduce critical submarine force structure by default. There are alternatives to generate the desired savings while preserving the existing budgeted and authorized force structure.

http://www.dcmilitary.com/navy/tester/10_27/national_news/35793-1.html

July 7, 2005
Launch date for new personnel system aborted

by Donna Miles
AMERICAN FORCES PRESS SERVICE
WASHINGTON - The first phase of the Defense Department's new National Security Personnel System has been adjusted slightly, to later in the fiscal year, NSPS officials have told the American Forces Press Service.
The Defense Department will work with the Office of Personnel Management to adjust the proposed NSPS regulation based on public comments and the meet-and-confer process with employee representatives, according to Mary Lacey, NSPS program executive officer.
These revisions will be published in the Federal Register later this summer, and implementation of NSPS could begin 30 days after the publication. However, officials stressed that the start date is "event driven" and that implementing instructions must be in place and training must be underway before the system gets rolled out.
Officials had hoped to begin the first phase of the rollout, called Spiral One, July 1, but noted all along that the launch date could change. "That (implementation) date is flexible, because we are not going to implement it until we are ready," Charles S. Abell, principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said during an interview last December.
NSPS officials said the labor relations part of the program is now expected to begin by September, followed by the performance management element of the human resources system early in fiscal 2006.
All civilian employees will receive the 2006 general pay increase before the pay-for-performance provisions of NSPS begin, officials said.
Spiral One, which will initially affect 60,000 employees, will eventually include about 300,000 U.S.-based Army, Navy, Air Force and DoD-agency civilian employees and managers.
After that, the system will be introduced incrementally over the next two or three years until all 700,000 DoD civilian employees eligible for NSPS are included, officials said. The system will be upgraded and improved as it goes forward, they said.
The National Security Personnel System is one of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's key initiatives designed to transform DoD operations to better meet 21st-century needs. It replaces an outmoded, 50-year-old civilian personnel management system that had rewarded employees for longevity.
Instead, the new system incorporates a performance-based pay system in tandem with a restructuring of the civilian work force to better support department missions.

http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050708/OPINION01/507080312/1015

Caring for veterans
By THE JOURNAL NEWS
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original Publication: July 8, 2005)

Congress has given initial approval, with a high degree of embarrassment, to send more money to the Department of Veterans Affairs to cover an increase in veterans' health-care costs that should have been — given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — anticipated.
The Senate approved adding $1.5 billion last Wednesday; the House OK'd $975 million the next day. The VA asked for $1 billion late last month because it underestimated the demand for health-care programs, not only from Iraq and Afghanistan but from other eras, as well as U.S. veterans age.
The VA projected about 23,000 returning veterans — 103,000 actually returned — based on 2002 pre-war estimates, which, House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., said, "borders on stupidity." Senate Republicans added more money than the VA asked for to counter Democratic criticism that the administration is shortchanging veterans. Given that the administration wants to increase veterans' health-care fees and co-payments — which Congress seems less disposed to impose — that criticism is deserved.
House Republicans stuck to the $975 million figure proposed by the administration as adequate. If it is not, Lewis told The Associated Press, "We've got plenty of time." Lewis apparently subscribes to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent comment that the Iraqi insurgency could persist for 10 or 12 more years. In which case Congress will need to provide a lot more money for veterans.
Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said information from the VA upon which an appropriation was based several months ago was "disturbingly inaccurate" in light of the recent request for another $1 billion.
VA Secretary Jim Nicholson said the shortfall was due to a miscalculation. Add that to the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, inadequate troop levels, insufficient equipment and underestimated armed resistance in Iraq as one more miscalculation. Veterans' health care, especially for those whose lives are on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan, should not suffer for it.


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