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VA follows Legion's advice: No GI Bill outsourcing

The Department of Veterans Affairs decided, after much influence from The American Legion, not to outsource some of its GI Bill responsibilities after all. In an Oct. 10 news release, VA said it will rely upon its own workforce to set up information technology (IT) programs needed to deliver new educational benefits to post-9/11 veterans.

National Commander Dave Rehbein applauded the decision, which reversed VA's earlier response - that it felt incapable of administering the new GI Bill on its own. "We didn't understand why that was," he said. "They handled it after World War II, Korea, Vietnam. They were running the Montgomery GI Bill in-house. We did not see the extra level of complexity that they were referring to, that made it impossible for them to handle the GI Bill."

Rehbein said he and other Legionnaires began to hear of an apparent VA plan to short-circuit the bid process for GI Bill outsourcing. "There wouldn't be a real bidding process. We were told that it was going to be a single source - a company had already been chosen," he said.

At that point, the Legion's National Executive Committee passed a resolution at its National Convention in August, opposing VA outsourcing of its responsibilities over veterans educational benefits. Rehbein made the Legion's position clear in his Sept. 11 testimony before Congress. "But even before the testimony, we were hearing the same criticism from some of our senators and representatives. They didn't understand, either."

On Sept. 16, Rehbein met with VA Secretary James Peake for a half-hour, who tried to assuage the Legion's concerns by promising that only IT responsibilities would be outsourced. "That was a step forward. But still, in our minds, it was not as far as they needed to go," Rehbein said. Finally, as opposition in Congress grew, VA retreated completely from its efforts to outsource the GI Bill.

Rehbein's extended comments on the GI Bill issue can be viewed on American LegionTV at the Legion's Web site. Peake said that private contractors were "apparently reluctant to offer proposals because of external misconceptions as to the scope of the work involved." Peake is a former employee of California-based QTC Management, Inc., a provider of government-outsourced occupational health and disability examination services. Former VA Secretary Anthony Principi, is currently executive chairman for QTC.

The VA news release said that its officials "did not receive enough proposals from qualified private-sector contractors to create an information technology program that implements the new benefit." But Keith Wilson, director of VA's Education Service, told members of Congress that 32 vendors had been identified who were "capable of delivering the system."

Wilson and Keith Pedigo, another VA official, testified Sept. 11 before the House Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, chaired by Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D. They were closely questioned about VA plans for outsourcing, how much the work would cost, when it would be ready, and what contingency plans were being developed. Sandlin and several other representatives raised serious concerns about the lack of detail in responses made by Wilson and Pedigo.

Patrick Dunne, VA's undersecretary for benefits, said the Post-9/11 GI Bill "is unusually complex, with payments being tailored to tuition costs and going to both students and educational institutions. Some benefits are determined by a school's ZIP code, and others by in-state rates for tuition."

Dunne did not go into detail about why he believes ZIP codes and tuition rates are "unusually complex." He also did not explain how VA was able to manage GI Bill benefits for 8 million World War II veterans without computers, e-mail or fax machines.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill will provide educational assistance to veterans, military members, reservists and National Guard members who have served since Sept. 11, 2001. By law, the new benefits are scheduled to start Aug. 1, 2009.

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