AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of a congressional subcommittee are asking U.S. Department of Defense officials to eliminate former Maine Gov. John Baldacci’s new job with the federal government.
Baldacci was recently appointed to a position within the DoD’s Office of Personnel and Readiness that will focus on ways to reform the health care system used by military personnel, their families and veterans. The appointment, which pays $165,300, is for one year with the possibility of an extension.
But during a press conference Thursday in Washington, D.C., Republican U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina said the new position “would epitomize the type of waste the military is seeking to eliminate” as the DoD strives for greater efficiency in the health care system.
Wilson and six other Republican members of the House’s Armed Services Committee’s Military Personnel Subcommittee sent a letter to Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, asking that the department cut the position, which they dubbed the “military health care czar.”
“In light of recent efficiency measures proposed by the Department of Defense (DOD), we
do not understand how creating a new position to review the military health care system makes
sense,” reads the letter, dated Wednesday. “We believe this position is duplicative of the positions you and Dr. Jonathan Woodson currently occupy, and this hiring is an example of the kind of waste that needs to be eliminated, not encouraged.”
Baldacci could not be reached Thursday, and Defense Department representatives did not respond to requests for comment on Wilson’s statements.
A Democrat, Baldacci left office in January after serving eight years in the Blaine House as well as four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although not a veteran, Baldacci was, as governor, involved in the deployment of Maine National Guard troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and their care upon returning to Maine.
His administration also created the Dirigo Health program, an ambitious yet politically polarizing attempt to help cover uninsured persons in Maine.
In his new position with the Defense Department, Baldacci will focus on, among other things, prevention and wellness, the health care delivery system and the program known as Tricare that employs nonmilitary providers to deliver health care services to military personnel and their families. The former governor will also examine ways to improve the delivery of health care services to National Guard and reserve units.
All four members of Maine’s congressional delegation — including Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins — have praised Baldacci’s appointment to the new position. In media reports, Snowe called Baldacci an “ideal fit” for the position.
“We need creative ideas to help address the rising cost of health care which impact the Defense Department, and I know John will bring a wealth of knowledge to the job,” Collins said last week. “I look forward to continuing to work with him in my role as a member of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.”
But in his comments and in the letter to defense officials, Wilson, who is chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, suggested that Baldacci’s hiring and his mission could conflict with or render irrelevant reform proposals already under consideration by lawmakers.
“We would like to work in partnership with the department on finding a way forward to
improve the quality and access of health care for our service members, their families and
veterans, and to find efficiencies within the system,” the letter states. “However, we view the hiring of a ‘Military Health Care Czar’ as counterproductive to that goal.”