Michael Barone
President Obama evidently was caught by surprise by the scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

So, apparently, was VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, who evidently took at face value the corrupt VA statistics -- and who, after a distinguished military career, resigned last week.

One who was probably not taken by surprise is longtime Yale Law Professor Peter Schuck, who identified the problems at the VA before the scandal broke in his recently published book, "Why Government Fails So Often and How It Can Do Better."

Schuck is no libertarian who wants to do away with government altogether. He says he has voted for every Democratic presidential candidate but one since 1964.

The federal government, he notes, does more things than ever and gets less respect than ever from the people it purports to serve. There is, he argues, a connection between these two trends.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is a case in point. Writing well before the current scandal, Schuck notes that the VA's budget has more than doubled in real terms over a dozen years, from $45 billion in 2000 to $154 billion in 2012, and that it hired many more claims processors.

"Yet as Congress keeps authorizing new benefits and makes eligibility easier, the backlog (now 900,000 claims) grows steadily worse due to the agency's continued reliance on paper records, its perversely designed production quotas that encourage employees to reach for the thin folders first, the numerous refilled and appealed claims after denials, and its lax definition of disability to include common age-related conditions."

Reaching for the thin folders first, it turns out, was not the worst of it. The waiting list scandal uncovered at the Phoenix VA hospital was not just the product of a few miscreants.

As the VA inspector general's report makes clear, there was a widespread conspiracy to keep veterans off the official waiting lists. Dozens if not hundreds of VA employees must have cooperated and colluded.

Each of them knew what was going on. Each knew that they were cheating and violating the rules. And many understood that bonuses and promotions hinged on the success of their conspiracy.

So the Phoenix VA hospital reported that the average waiting time for medical appointments was 24 days -- short of the Obama administration's 2011 goal of 14 days but within ballpark range.

But the actual waiting time, according to the inspector general's report, was 115 days. That is orders of magnitude greater than the 14-day goal.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM