WASHINGTON – Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald on Wednesday asked a Republican lawmaker who served in both Iraq wars, "What have you done?" as the two men sparred over huge cost overruns at a troubled Denver VA hospital.
McDonald was defending the VA's budget at a hearing when he and Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman tussled over construction delays and cost increases at the long-delayed hospital project.
After a few minutes of arguing, McDonald snapped at Coffman: "I've run a large company, sir. What have you done?"
Coffman, an Army veteran, did not respond at the hearing. But the four-term lawmaker said in a statement later that he could tell McDonald a few things he hasn't done.
"I have never run a federal agency that tolerates corruption the way the VA has. I've never built a hospital that's years behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget. And I've never been a shill for inept bureaucrats who allowed American heroes to die on a medical waiting list," he said.
The last comment was a reference to a wait-time scandal that cost former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki his job. McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO, took over as VA secretary in July. He has vowed to improve VA's delivery of services such as health care and disability benefits and make it a "model" for other government agencies.
The dust-up started when Coffman criticized the VA for citing its legal efforts to defend the Denver hospital project as a major accomplishment.
"How is that a success?" Coffman asked. "You lost that case on every single point for the hospital in my district that is hundreds of millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule."
"I think that that's just characteristic of your glossing over the extraordinary problems confronted by your department," Coffman added. "This is a department mired in bureaucratic incompetence and corruption."
McDonald said he was offended by Coffman's remarks and noted that he had only been on the job for six months.
"You've been here longer than I have. If there's a problem in Denver, I think you own it more than I do," he told Coffman.
McDonald then offered to give Coffman his cellphone, "and you can answer some of the calls and see if I'm making a difference for veterans."