A congressional panel voted Wednesday to subpoena the Department of Veterans Affairs after the agency spent months stonewalling lawmakers over documentation of its excessive spending on art and construction.
Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said the VA didn't make "any attempt to respond" to records requests until his committee announced its intention to exercise its subpoena power at the business meeting Wednesday.
When the VA did respond, Miller noted, agency officials claimed they had only spent $4.7 million on art across the country between Jan. 2010 and July 2016.
"Yet the committee has already substantiated $6.4 million spent over this period in the Palo Alto healthcare system alone," Miller said, adding that the Palo Alto system was just one in a network of 21 systems nationwide.
Democrats and Republicans on the VA committee clashed over how the panel should pursue the spending documents, with minority members accusing Republicans of rushing to issue a subpoena before exhausting other options.
Miller said he has 176 document requests collecting dust at the VA, including some dating back to 2012.
The VA committee has repeatedly asked the agency to provide more information about its botched attempts to build a new facility in Aurora, Co. That project is often hailed as the greatest construction failure in VA history, as its costs have ballooned to five times the initial estimate and work has dragged on since 2011.
Agency officials have said construction is slated for completion in 2018.
Miller indicated his panel is investigating the stalled project, which could cost taxpayers more than $1 billion before it serves a single veteran.
Rep. Mark Takano, ranking Democrat on the VA panel, said minority members would support the subpoena if Republicans removed any references to unredacted documents, citing concern that whistleblowers' identities could be compromised if their names were disclosed in the requested records.
Miller and Takano sparred over whether the committee should vote on the subpoena Wednesday or table the issue until the motion could be amended to ensure personal information could be withheld from Congress.
But Miller prevailed, demanding the panel move forward after allowing the VA to rebuff document requests for far too long.
Reports of extravagant VA spending on artwork and furniture rankled Republicans this summer as agency officials blamed a lack of resources for their inability to provide timely care to thousands of veterans around the country.