Walter Reed Subpoenas

The short story is that outpatient treatment of wounded vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center has been shameful. Dana Priest of the Washington Post did a thorough, front page expose of what had been going on. (Here, here, here, and here. here.) It hit the big time and the Secretary of the Army, Francis Harvey (a civilian appointed by President Bush three years ago) had General George Weightman, man in charge at Walter Reed, step down and replaced him with his predecessor, General Kevin Kiley. Trouble was that conditions were reported to have been even worse at Walter Reed during Kiley’s tenure.

Act II: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates fired Secretary of the Army Harvey and replaced him with under Secretary Pete Geren. General Eric Schoomaker ( younger brother of Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker) has replaced General Kiley at Walter Reed.

This is all good.
In four years of war no one of comprable rank has been held accountable for rank dereliction of duty. But wait! There’s more!

Act III: Late today Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued a subpoena to General Weightman. The Pentagon resisted, and lost. Weightman will appear Monday or soon thereafter it appears.

Congressman Waxman is particularly interested in a “contract to manage the medical center awarded to a company that had documented troubles fulfilling a government contract to deliver ice to victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

According to a letter from Waxman to Weightman posted today on the committee’s Web site, the chairman believes the Walter Reed contract may have pushed dozens of health care workers to leave jobs at the troubled medical center, which he says in turn threatened the quality of care for hundreds of military personnel receiving treatment there….

In the letter, Waxman charged that the Army used an unusual process to award a five-year, $120 million contract to manage the center to a company owned by a former executive of Halliburton, the scandal-prone government contractor once operated by Vice President Dick Cheney.

In 2004, the Army determined that Walter Reed’s federal employees could operate the medical center more efficiently than IAP Worldwide Services, which is operated by the former Halliburton executive, Al Neffgen, Waxman wrote. After IAP protested, the Army “unilaterally” increased the employees’ estimated costs by $7 million, making IAP appear cheaper, Waxman said. Rules barred Walter Reed employees from appealing the decision, Waxman wrote, and in January 2006 the Army gave the contract to IAP.

According to an internal memo written by a senior Walter Reed administrator and obtained by Waxman, the decision to outsource to IAP led the center’s skilled personnel to leave Walter Reed “in droves,” fearing they would be laid off when the contractor took over. In the last year, Waxman found, over 250 of 300 government employees left the center. The lack of staffing put patient care “at risk of mission failure,” warned an internal Army memo obtained by the congressman.

He is generally interested in the push to privatize federal services. Outsourcing, in other words. Perhaps the question of outsourcing of the war itself will come up, or at a later hearing. 140,000 military and 100,000 contractors in Iraq ought to be worth a question or two.

Waxman to Question Weightman

I just want to remind all of you who worked and paid and prayed for Democratic victory in the November elections how proud you should be. I gave more money and wrote more letters and attended more meetings than I ever had. Every new hearing, every new subpoena, every piece of legislation passed by the House or Senate makes me a very happy man. Of course there is much more to be done. The damned war is not stopped and the bodies are spilling into the mold infested hallways but what is happening is worth some loud bell ringing and midnight whooping! Just go read the letter Waxman sent Weightman and feel proud. Heck, print it and post it on your wall with a little label: I helped do this!

Update: Dana Priest, the Washington Post reporter who, along with Ann Hull, broke the current story was interviewed by Judy Woodruff on PBS last night. At the end of the interview she hits on one point that needs to be hit again and again:

Well, you know, the root of so much that we cover is money. And the question is, why isn’t this funded to the extent that it needs to be funded?

The Veterans Administration hospitals, for instance, are always put in the supplemental budget. They’re never part of the main budget, same with some of the issues that were affecting Walter Reed.

So what are they trying to do with that money shell game, in a way? They’re trying not to own up to the fact that this is a costly thing to do right. And if we want to do that, you need to put it in the budget in a respectful way, in which people can look at it, and truth squad it, and decide whether that’s right or not, and that it will stay there long enough, not just be a year-by-year appropriation.

This administration, as well as many before it, wants to keep the war off the books as much as possible. Budgetary shell games are the only game in town, and especially for this ugly little cake walk in Iraq.

Woodruff also interviews Mark Benjamin of who has covered this issue since 2003, to a lot of yawns everywhere, except for the Code Pink crew which has vigiled outside of the hospital for quite some time.

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