Lawmakers Call for Hearings on VA Contracts
Seven Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday called for hearings into possible conflicts of interest involving a Department of Veterans Affairs contract worth up to $1.2 billion with a medical examination firm once headed by former VA Secretary Anthony Principi, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Times on Sunday detailed the potential conflict involving Principi, who was president of QTC Management when he was nominated for the VA position in 2000. QTC was awarded a contract to conduct exams on veterans applying for disability benefits in 1998 -- before Principi worked for QTC -- and a second contract in 2003, when Principi was VA secretary.
Principi, who now serves as chair of QTC, says he fully complied with federal ethics rules and played no role in awarding or administering the QTC contracts.
The seven Democratic lawmakers in a letter to Rep. Stephen Buyer (R-Ind.), chair of the committee, said, "Our committee should review the facts and circumstances involving Mr. Principi and the QTC contracts to determine if there was any wrongdoing." They added that the committee "should address if the leader of an organization who has essentially divested himself from a prior business interest can, even unintentionally, influence the award of a business contract or provide an advantage to his former firm." Buyer could not be reached for comment (Roche, Los Angeles Times, 4/27).
In related news, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Tuesday sent a letter to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson asking for copies of any communications between Principi and QTC. Waxman also asked for copies of communication between other top VA officials and QTC, along with summaries "of any oral communications."
Waxman said, "Regardless of whether ethical or contracting rules were violated, the appearance of impropriety can have a damaging effect on public confidence in the department. This appearance can be mitigated by full disclosure." Waxman said VA's agreement with QTC "appears to be a poor deal for the taxpayers" (Roche, Los Angeles Times, 4/26).