Wednesday, October 28, 2015
I was looking for a picture of me at Saufley AAF just outside of Pensacola, FL for an OCS reunion and I came across a batch of pics of my Scout Troop and the trip of our then very short lives.
Scouting for me being 72" tall and weighing 98 lbs (In high school) was the only activity from which I could derive a feeling of self worth and accomplishment.
My scout master, Julius Walker (Jay) McKay, was a graduate of the Citadel and served as the officer in charge of a battery of quad 50s in Europe during WW II; he was a Lawyer in Columbia who was a bachelor and had time and resources to be one of the finest leaders and educator of young boys and later young men that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Although I am a person of many words, none could fit the dedication and commitment this man had for the boys of Troop 4 of St. Martins-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church. To steal a phrase, "Surly goodness and mercy shall follow him all the days of his life, and he shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever."
I may not have all this right, but Jay was a member of the law firm McKay, McKay, Black and Walker and they were on retainer with the Southern Pacific Railroad.
In 1957 the Boy Scouts of America held a Jamboree at Valley Forge, Virginia. Jay decided that we, Troop 4, should attend. Jay knew almost everyone in the flat lands of SC including Strom Thurman and Fritz Hollings. So he started gathering materials and support for the scouts to build a stockade block house that could be disassembled and reassembled. All this was accomplished on his property we called Holly Springs several miles out hwy 76, I think. We had a friend of Jays sew up enough canvas to make tee pees for all who were going to the Jamboree. We spent hours painting the designs on the canvas and making all of our Indian costumes that we wore during our "rain" dance. When the time came, I was given the job of driving the troop moving van that was a donation from one of the members of the church. I had to make several round trips to transfer all the stuff for the block house, tee pees, chow, rolls of binders twine, a couple sets of uniforms and all the patches and stuff we owned to trade at the Jamboree from the church to the loading platform of the Southern Pacific Railroad. I might have been 15. We loaded the freight cars, mounted the passenger cars, said our farewells and started on a journey none would soon forget.
There were over 50,000 Scouts at the Jamboree and we arrived in our own personal Pullman Car and two freight cars that cost the scouts nothing other than the Registration at the Jamboree. I can feel the excitement right now. What an experience for most of us who had never been out of the state of SC. What a great week! This was how a young boy, with the proper model and a man who created discipline by example learned the values of sharing, working for success of the Troop, respect for elders, firearms and mother nature. I was not big or strong enough to play any high school sport, but Scouting, hunting and fishing with my scout friends were, in the long run, a far better growth pattern than I probably deserved. Two of my early years best friends are in one or more of the attached pics. The only one with a name is Tommy Turner the other is wearing a black cowboy hat in one of the pics and his name is Rock Garick. He and I ride motorcycles to this very day and remain good friends. Tommy and I spent all our days when not in school, hunting and fishing. We carved long bows from lemon wood and made arrows from dowels procured from the local saw dust floor hardware store. The dowels cost money so we were very careful in their construction and care. We would practice all day long. You could kick a wax milk carton in the air and Tommy and I could each put an arrow in it before it hit the ground.
We had no bird dogs so Quail hunting was nothing more than walking through a woods with hope to flush a covey up. Although we both had shot guns given to us by our fathers, the shells were beyond our means. So we purchased a Wamo Sling Shot and doubled the length of the surgical tubing. We discarded the leather sling and replaced it with a piece of hog hide that was wider and longer than the piece that came with the Wamo. 25 cents for a round cardboard tube of BBs and we are ready for the hunt. We would pour about half the BBs in our mouth and spit four or five into the enlarged hide sling. You are going to have to take my word for this, but if a bird jumped up, you can pull, aim and release in half the time it takes you to get off a round from a smooth bore. As soon as you released, you turned the hide inside out and spit more BBs into the sling and you were ready for any singles. If we flushed three coveys, we would bring home at least two birds brought down by the Wamo. I will admit we did find that many a time we had wandered onto a piece of property for which we had not permission to hunt.
All this activity was unconsciously woven into our lives with the Scout troop. Above all, we, the pubescent, understood the value and power of loyalty and honesty with each other. My first job out of college was in NYC and it took less than a couple of day to realize that these two precious traits from childhood held no value in the big city. The United States Marine Corps made it clear that loyalty and honesty were not just traditional ideas but a way of life when life depends on the reliability of those on your flanks.
I will never forget the scorn, embarrassment and disappointment of my father when he found out I had lied to a neighbor. In my day in Columbia, SC, a place in the deep south, to tell a lie was not just a mark of rudeness and improper rearing, but marked your mother and father as well. Shame is one hell of teacher. This is especially true if its your actions that bring it to the door step of a loved one. It's in short supply these days.
If you have read this far and in the unlikely event you are wondering why you received this email or why I took the time to tell you the story, the answer is personal and simple. When I looked at the pictures of the Jamboree, I was alone in my bedroom and all these memories started to flow back into my conscience. You are fortunate I only told you a couple, there are a lot more.
I was proud of my time in the Scouts and I thought about each of you individually and how, in my memory, we had shared through accident or coincidence, a number of life's lessons in a dozen different ways. Its all a little mushy but I thought some might find it refreshing from today's news.
Rock:Pass along to Damo if you like.
I have attached some pics of the Jamboree. I took most of them with a Kodak Brownie, great camera.
47,000+ Boy Scouts Pullman Car gathering
Assistant Scout Masters Farewell Gathering
Non-PC dance Julius Walker (Jay) McKay
Another group of great pretenders Tommy Turner Troop Four
Colonel USMC (Ret)
To: Mr. Patrick Francescon
C/O Senator Tim Scott
520 Hart Senate Bld
Washington, DC 20510
Subj: The VA Budgets for the last five years.
Greetings: Mr. Francescon
We have met once during a presentation of proposed legislation by Concerned Veterans for America and I stopped you at one of the monuments on the Mall this week and asked for your card so that I could send you the following:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/angry-house-members-berate-va-over-6-billion-in-improper-spending/2015/05/14/b9553130-fa59-11e4-9030-b4732caefe81_story.html?wpisrc=nl_pmpol&wpmm=1 This story is peanuts compared to what follows. Outrage should be the emotion of the day.
I have been working on this discussion for almost a year and I am certain that the problems I surface are known to you or should be known to you. Read it as you see fit, but make sure Senator Scott is acutely aware of the issue.
I would like to be clear. My concerns extend beyond the current problems of the VA. But the VA is an example of a Government agency that has the power to visit both good and evil on the everyday American citizen. In our case with the VA, those who served, share a common history and perhaps a common bond in that at some point in our lives we swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and we did so at the time by serving our nation in its armed forces. For a single hitch or a career. In war or in peace, we did our part to the ability of our lights and gifts provided by our creator.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a retired service member, so I do not need the services of the VA at the present time. This in no way lessens my concerns for my brother veterans.
I am assuming that some one on the staff of Senator Scott has the job of VA issues. If you are not that person, would you kindly route the package to the proper person. I am out of words, energy and ideas that help vets get the service they deserve so I am relying on you and your peers to make things right for our warriors.
Today the VA health care system has grown from 54 hospitals in 1930 to include 171 medical centers; more than 700 outpatient, community, and outreach clinics; 126 nursing home care units; and 35 domiciliaries. The VA employs nearly 280,000 people and has requested a 2015 Budget of $163.9B out of a total of 3.901T. This represents 4% of the nations spending. Next to the Department of Defense, VA Affairs, now a Cabinet post, has a higher level of funding than any of the rest of the Cabinet departments.
We have a problem in our house. It’s a give-a-hoot problem. Less than one percent of our population is on active duty or in the Reserves or Guard units. What this means is that unless you have a direct relative (father, son, daughter, etc.) who has been killed or wounded in combat you are emotionally disconnected from the suffering of the veteran and of his family. You may feel empathy, but there is no sense of loss, suffering or financial stress. Without a larger population of military personnel this condition will never change, but it is not hopeless. The term most commonly used for this condition is "Skin in the game". Even a 25-year veteran like myself has no skin in this game. If you, are like me, believe that war (American war fighting personnel and/or equipment invades the land mass or the skies over said land mass of a sovereign nation) is the responsibility of the legislative branch then our current ability to apply military force to a foreign nation is way out of line with our Constitution. However, if we are correct about the responsibilities of the Congress, then part of the duties of a declaration of war is to make sure the entire nation has skin in the game whether they like it not. If not, then they can replace those that voted for a declaration of war. The easiest way to do this is levy a Federal Sales tax. There can be no exceptions because you want every citizen to wake up each morning and ask the question... is this war the right thing to do. If the citizens are not willing to pay for a war, then they should not allow its leaders to put us into one.
If you do not have skin in the game, there is a better than even chance that Iraq and Afghanistan are a long way off and have no impact on you or anyone you know.
Without this connection, its possible that over 300 million Americans find it hard or impossible to be an activist or even show interest for VA issues. As a side note, this lack of skin in the game makes it a lot easier for the Executive Branch to initiate hostilities when he/she KNOWS that there will be no response from the voting public because the fighting, dying, suffering and unspeakable sacrifice is done by less than one percent of the population and believe it or not they do not have the support nor lobbying powers of the same people who sent them in harms way. This apathy is dangerous.
I have been a participant recently in lobbying my state's US senators and house members in their offices to consider legislation that touches VA issues around its edges. The legislation is not without value, but it is a far cry from reforming a unionized bureaucracy. Regardless of what many will tell you, a voice of one without billions of dollars behind him is a voice unheard. I should know.
There are lots of issues that you and your peers must handle each day and they all seem important. If the government sends men and women to die and be maimed in some mindless extension of a failing foreign policy and then allows their return to society to be anything but their first priority every day, then the government's priorities and its national pride and traditions are marginalized to the point of emptiness.
So what's to be done? For me, I pick a single issue within the VA and make every effort to put this issue in front of folks like you.
My concern is the apparent waste, and I would presume, illicit or illegal budgetary misuse of tax payer dollars. This is not news. This is old boring waste and theft of the taxpayers money. I can feel the need to yawn myself.
Please hear me out!
Lets look at FedEx for a moment and consider a comparison: You may agree that the US Marine Corps puts heavy emphasis on mission accomplishment. This skill is one that translates to the civilian world easily. So if we look at Fed Ex's numbers, you will see a dramatic dichotomy in their comparison to the VA.
|Annual FedEx Revenue||$39.3 billion|
|Number of packages shipped annually by FedEx||1.2 billion|
|Total miles traveled each day by FedEx couriers (equivalent to 100 trips around earth)||2.5 million|
|Number of countries and territories FedEx delivers to||220|
|Number of full time FedEx employees||300,000|
|Percent of shipped packages lost by FedEx||0.55 %|
|Highest Historic Stock Price Feb 17, 2007||$120.97|
|Lowest Historic Stock Price May 6, 1980||$2.50|
|Number of delivery vans in the FedEx fleet||43,000|
|Number of airplanes in the FedEx fleet||654|
|FedEx air fleet total daily lift capacity||30 million pounds|
|Total daily miles traveled by the FedEx air fleet||500,000|
|Amount FedEx paid to acquire Kinko’s||$2.4 billion in cash|
|Highest FedEx employee salary – IT Manager||$123,000|
|Lowest FedEx employee – Customer Service Representative||$10.42 / hour|
The IT department of Fed Ex has a budget of $1B per year with which they control, by the minute, those activities I just mentioned and pay for all their R&D.
Now lets look at what the VA is doing.
As of 2013, there were over 600,000 out of 900,000 claims that are over 125 days old. This is the problem that is a failure to meet standards set by the VA themselves. Even these "goals" are arbitrary and, as you are well aware, falsified at every turn.
Here are the budget figures for IT Infrastructure and Documentation improvements from 2011 through 2015
|All numbers are in BILLIONS of dollars.|
|Fiscal Year||IT Infrastructure||Benefit Processing||Total|
So the VA spent 16B dollars in these two categories and the backlog skyrocketed to 600,000 waiting over 125 days. Please note that these budget request continue to this day and there is still a huge if less than 600,000 backlog.
Before he was relieved of duty/resigned, Secretary Shinseki signed a five year $12B infrastructure contract with fourteen Primary Contractors
These 14 Primary Contractors are to run its IT infrastructure project. Half of the contractors were veteran/8(a) businesses and the other half was a whose who of Crystal City regulars. Try to imagine a project with 14 prime contractors. When you want to know who is in charge, to whom do you go?
Director Shinseki said that the "T4" contracts…"will enable VA to acquire services for information technology programs that will help insure timely delivery of health care and benefits to our Veterans". Wrong.
Spending 16B over those three years was not enough to do what is in the quotes. The selected fourteen companies will compete for task orders to integrate VA systems, network and software to modernize the VA's information technology infrastructure. Nothing in the report I read even hinted that there was going to be any effort to ensure that each of the 14 companies produce/procure hardware/software that was compatible with what the other 14 guys were doing and with what had already been done. So after spending the $16B the systems are still not modern? This year, the "T4" contract was turned into the "T4NG" project and applied an additional $22B over five years with a possible five year extension. It was interesting to note that in five years of Major Appropriation Issues the acronyms of "T4" or "T4NG" do not appear. One hates to guess where this money comes from but more importantly where does it go! A single $22B contract that has no visible funding line?
(Patrick: It is really hard to be nice and polite when thinking of those who bleed the nation of its resources for reasons of greed, rice bowl maintenance and power retention. )
A contract of this size requires a government project manager superman to keep this bunch of folks in line and to keep a $12B program from turning into a $35 B program. Sorry, its already turned into $22B contract. If the VA is anything like the Department of the Navy, (I was a supporting contractor for a Navy black program) there is no where near enough expertise in all 300,000 employees to even define what their IT and documentation needs are. If there were, they would not need this contract. Here is what the VA's Technical Acquisition Center says the goals of the T4NG contract are: "...acquire IT and Telecommunication services for program management and strategy planning, system/software engineering, enterprise network, cyber security, operation and maintenance and IT facility support". So the VA is going to spend $28B over five years out of its normal budget process but will be adding, off budget apparently, $22B to fix, redo, modernize or some other meaningless expression to what has just been done but is totally unsat.
This much money brings out the worst in all of us. Losing bidders before the ink was dry were challenging this contract. The details are a repetition of most large government contracts and are ho hum in the land of the Beltway Bandit. But this time, our wounded band of brothers is the target for getting screwed by greed, ineptitude, arrogance and the abyss of red tape ready and waiting courtesy of the existing unionized bureaucracy.
Is the status of fraud, waste and abuse so engrained in our government that our representatives seem to yawn when almost $51B dollars has or will be spent with no visible change in waiting periods for the veterans that can be attributed to what has been and will be spent?
Some where in this mess, a group of employees and contractors are directly or indirectly enriching themselves at the trough of the American taxpayer.
Should anyone in DC really want to fix the VA department, just make all 300,000 employees join the same health plan as the veterans.
So, why does no one ask the VA a couple of questions:
Show me the hardware and firmware that my money purchased.
Show me the single database software you are using for ALL of the VA.
Show me the database search engine and its ability to query every piece of data the VA owns.
For the single database, show me a list of database managers who are schooled and certified in this single database. Are they the same people that were submitted in the proposal response to the RFP and who will stay with the project for no less than two years.
What telecommunications network? Where is the requirement statement for such a network.
How many management hours are charged to each of the 14 prime contractors. Charges that produce not one line of code or one minute of bug testing, discovery and fix.
What if these questions have already been asked but we don't know the answers. Answers that may have been in some email on some unknown server and erased contrary to VA and GAO accounting procedures? Your mail, email, phone calls and personal visits must clearly show that the American public does not trust its own government. All these negatives notwithstanding, lets keep sticking the issues with our trusty lance.
Lets assume that this money reduces the more than 125 day wait for veterans from 600,000 to 50,000. The cost to bring each veteran out of the 125 day wait is one million dollars per veteran. My arithmetic must be wrong. No one would do this to America's taxpayers.
This discussion has been about a very small portion of the VA Budget. Yet, if my observations are close, if the National Debt continues to rise past $18T, if the Fed and Treasury continue to print money based on just a promise to honor its debts, if Servicing the National Debt reaches $1T a year, if revenues do not increase past $3+T then this nation and its experiment in Democracy are in a "Clear and Present Danger".
Where you work is intoxicating. The power, privilege and perks available to Congressmen and Senators and their staffs is far too habit forming for any normal human to withstand. Washington is no longer the Washington of Jefferson. Every news program points to a body of evidence that men and women who have fallen to the power of money abound in Washington's government. This is unhealthy and unbefitting a nation of our stature.
The solution to the ills of the VA and all the rest of the departments that work with a unionized work force is to separate unions from the government. Since this chore is immeasurably difficult and may be impossible, it is in your hands to find a way out, you are now the Best and Brightest. Help this land that is unique in world history and help the Veterans, not with money, but with a population of vets as employees in the VA and a skipper to run the ship with the power to hire and fire at will. He should serve at the pleasure of the President but not necessarily at the direction of the President.
Look into your own soul and identify a single budget line item that should have a priority in funding, oversight and national recognition as do the returning American troops damaged in wars that the Government of the United States sent them to accomplish by violence that which it failed to resolve by diplomacy.
Don't trust my analysis, do your own and fulfill the promise this Nation makes to each service member it deploys or sends to war.
Augustus Fitch III
Colonel USMC (Ret)