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August 2, 2016 02:50 PM
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Congress Threatens to Subpoena VA Over Art Spending

Rep. Miller questions spending on Eleanor Roosevelt art in Morse code, sculptures for the blind

BY: Elizabeth Harrington  

August 2, 2016 2:50 pm

Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (R., Fla.) is threatening to subpoena the Department of Veterans Affairs after the agency has refused to answer questions over frivolous spending on artwork for over nine months.

Miller sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald on Friday, again asking for answers on the agency’s spending on art, including $285,000 on a "light up" art installation featuring quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt in Morse code.

A joint investigation by Open the Books and COX Media revealed that the VA spent $20 million on artwork and art consulting services over the past decade, amidst the healthcare scandal in which thousands of veterans died waiting in line to see doctors. The spending included sculptures at a facility serving blind veterans.

Miller first questioned the VA in October, seeking documentation on how much the department has spent on artwork since 2010. The chairman also asked if the VA commissioned any artwork from veterans.

The VA had until Oct. 29 to respond to Miller’s request. Nine months later, the committee is still waiting.

"On October 9, 2015, I requested the following information," Miller wrote on Friday. "To date, VA has neither provided it nor given an update as to when to expect it."

Miller pointed to the recent reports of the VA’s $20 million spending on art, and questioned whether in fact the figure is higher.

"The committee previously identified at least $6,349,877.77 spent by the Palo Alto Health Care System on art and consulting services," Miller wrote. "Either the reported $20 million, 10-year total is incomplete, or the Palo Alto Health Care System expenditures represent an extraordinarily large portion of VA’s nationwide spending."

Miller is requesting answers by Aug. 26, and threatened to subpoena the agency if they again ignore the committee’s request.

"If VA fails to do so, the Committee will not hesitate to pursue a subpoena in order to effectuate their immediate release," Miller wrote.

The $6.3 million in artwork spending at the Palo Alto facility uncovered by the committee included $1.3 million for a large rock sculpture in a mental health center; $365,700 for a stainless steel sculpture; and $330,800 for a sculpture in the shape of a half arc.

The committee also detailed the VA’s spending $33.4 million on conferences in the third quarter of fiscal year 2015 alone.

"Let me be very clear. Spending money on conferences and relocation expenses for VA employees and on art installations for VA facilities is not more important than spending money on patient care," Miller said.

The VA did not immediately respond to request for comment.

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