VA blew $2.3 million on data plans for iPhones, iPads that sat in storage, OIG reports

Internal watchdog found the department had prepaid data plans on devices that went unused.
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Golden Horseshoe
Golden Horseshoe
(Just the News)

The Golden Horseshoe is a weekly designation from Just The News intended to highlight egregious examples of wasteful taxpayer spending by the government. The award is named for the horseshoe-shaped toilet seats for military airplanes that cost the Pentagon a whopping $640 each back in the 1980s.

This week's Golden Horseshoe is awarded to the Department of Veterans Affairs for wasting more than $2.3 million on data plans for tablets and smartphones that were unused and placed in storage.

The VA Office of Inspector General found 10,000 iPhones and nearly 81,000 iPads were purchased for $71.1 million by the Veterans Health Administration Connected Care Office to assist homeless veterans with virtual healthcare visits during the pandemic. All had prepaid data plans activated immediately.

The OIG found that approximately 85% of the iPhones were still in storage more than a year after they were purchased along with many of the iPads, according to OpenTheBooks.com. The unused devices' prepaid data plans cost taxpayers $2.3 million, the independent federal spending watchdog reported for RealClear Policy. 

"The OIG found that Connected Care officials spent approximately $6.9 million to purchase 8,544 iPhones that were not used by veterans" who were homeless, according to the audit report. "This appeared to be due in part to lack of information for officials to be able to determine the quantity needed for the targeted veteran population." 

Officials "made a good faith effort" to support homeless veterans, the inspector general found, but given the "uncertainties" created by the pandemic and not knowing how many devices would be needed under the new initiative led to millions in wasted funds.  

"The persistent failure of the VA to reform its acquisition practices is a disappointment to both American taxpayers and veterans," wrote OpenTheBooks.com CEO and Founder Adam Andrzejewski. "The millions that are wasted each year could be going to help care for veterans, but instead are lost because of poor management and outdated practices."

The VA budget was $268.5 billion in 2022, and the agency is requesting $301.4 billion for 2023, Andrzejewski noted. "Unfortunately, until the agency does the hard work of reforming its processes and policies, more money will likely lead to more waste," he wrote.

The OIG made two recommendations, and the VA agreed with both in a memo to the assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations.

"The Office of Connected Care (OCC) will partner with the Denver Logistics Center (DLC) to enhance the existing process surrounding new tablet shipment and device refurbishment, with a specific goal to reduce average days in storage for tablets awaiting shipment and improve the monitoring process," wrote Steven L. Lieberman, deputy under secretary for health performing the delegable duties of the under secretary for health. 

The Office of Connected Care, "in partnership with the contractor officers that procure cellular data plans on behalf of VHA," Lieberman wrote, "will review the current cellular data contract(s) and assess feasible options for a new process that would either: a. Result in the initiation of the data plan upon device issuance to the Veteran, or b. Implement an alternative process resulting in an overall reduction in data plan costs."