Who really got the vet clinic green-lighted in Pahrump?

At 8:14 AM on Aug. 5, Rep. Cresent Hardy -- or at least his Twitter feed operator -- could not contain himself:

That third-person celebratory reference of "BREAKING" news (not sure I have ever seen anyone outside of a journalist use "breaking" on a tweet) linked to a crowing release that also leveled a broadside at Hardy's predecessor, Steven Horsford, and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid: Congressman Hardy's predecessor, as well as Senator Harry Reid, had each promised progress on the clinic in years past, but ultimately could not cut through the red tape, and the project continued to languish.

Thirty-two minutes after Hardy's tweet, Reid's office sent out a release headlined: "Reid Announces Signing Of Pahrump Veterans Clinic"

When I pointed out on Twitter that race for credit, Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman responded:

So what really happened?

The backdrop cannot be removed: Hardy is running for re-election in a district he could not have won in 2014 except for the worst Democratic turnout imaginable. He needs to show effectiveness. By contrast, Team Reid would surely do anything it could to make the freshman Republican look ineffectual and hurt him in his re-election.

Some common sense intrudes: How does a Republican congressman in office for a little more than half a year take credit for persuading a Democratic administration to green-light a clinic that has been on the drawing board for some time. Indeed, as Orthman pointed out, Horsford and Reid were on the issue last year.

That's not to say that Hardy didn't engage immediately on the issue; he did. But a question lingers after both offices said they could find no evidence Hardy ever contacted Reid about the project: Why, if you cared about getting results, would you not contact the most powerful member of the delegation, the guy with the White House's ear?

No good answer. Indeed, Hardy spokesman Scott Knuteson ignored two requests for information about how the congressman got this done.

But, I persevered (i.e. went around Knuteson) and Hardy's office told me, the rookie congressman began working on the issue from the moment he was elected. To wit:

----He approached Veterans' Secretary Robert McDonald at a freshman meet and greet and reminded him of the Pahrump clinic delay. Hardy never met one-on-one again with McDonald about the clinic, but he or his staff met with underlings at least four times. His staff tallied what one called 20 different outreach attempts on the issue, inlcuding a tour of the North Las Vegas facility along with emails and phone calls. Hardy's office also had several contacts with junior Sen. Dean Heller's staff.

----On May 8, Hardy wrote to McDonald and asked for "a comprehensive update of the precise ways in which this project finds itself stalled, the actions your agency is taking to overcome these hurdles, and a timeline to completion." McDonald responded via an underling more than two months later on July 24, with Scott Gibson essentially telling him the federal procurement process was holding it up. (Both letters are below.)

Nothing I have found indicates that Hardy jumpstarted any process, especially considering that Reid was working with ex-Sen. John Ensign on the Pahrump clinic before Ensign resigned in 2011. Reid also exchanged several missives with the administration, which laid out a timeline that shows just how dysfunctional a bureaucracy can be. (It also could be said that even the majority/minority leader could not move this faster.)

The letters, which I have obtained, indicate that Vets Affairs Director Isabel Duff informed Reid in November 2013 that two bids on the facility had come in too high and needed "higher-level approval." That process would take up to six months and then construction would be done 12 to 18 months after that.

Reid and Horsford wrote to then-Vets Secretary Eric Shinseki in February 2014, asking to be "briefed on the status of the review process, including any obstacles delaying the selection and awarding of the final contract."

Reid has known of this problem for more than a decade, even talking about it in his 2004 campaign.

Still, Hardy wanted to make sure he received the credit, despite the sneering from Team Reid that ensued on Twitter, including these tweets from the congressman:

Hardy also tweeted supportive quotes from Assemblyman James Oscarson and Sen. Pete Goicoechea, who represent Pahrump and happen to be Republicans.

So: It's clear Hardy made this a priority when he got to Congress, either out of commitment to veterans or the calculation that such constituent attention might help him save his seat -- or both. But there is no evidence that anything he did "cut through the red tape." And the fact that his staff did not reach out to Reid's staff -- or that the freshman congressman did not talk to the senior senator -- is very telling and depressing, for at least the veterans, considering the minority leader's ability to influence a Democratic administration.

Letter to VA Sec McDonald Concerning Pahrump Clinic_May2015 by Jon Ralston

VA Response to CLH Letter by Jon Ralston