WASHINGTON – A group of Republican lawmakers wants the Department of Defense to eliminate former Gov. John Baldacci’s newly created military health care reform job.

At a news conference Thursday, U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, said he and seven other GOP subcommittee members have sent a letter to Baldacci’s boss at the Pentagon calling on him to “immediately eliminate this position.”

Wilson, R-S.C., said the position duplicates work being carried out by the official who hired Baldacci, Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; and by Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

“The thought of coming up with an out-of-work governor to do this is wrong,” Wilson said at the news conference. “It seems like a make-work position.”

Baldacci is being paid $165,300 for the one-year position, which can be extended. The Maine Democrat, who served four terms in Congress before being elected governor in 2002, was paid $70,000 a year as governor and served two four-year terms.

Wilson and the other Republicans called Baldacci’s job that of a “military health care czar,” and displayed a poster at the news conference satirizing an “Uncle Sam” recruiting poster: “Military Health Care Czar? Who foots the bill? You! The taxpayer!”

Wilson said there likely are other costs associated with Baldacci’s job, such as staff that Baldacci might want to hire to assist him in reviewing how to overhaul and improve military health care operations.

“This is a position that is not needed,” Wilson said.

He also said that the Defense Department is looking to cut its health care spending and increase premiums and fees for those receiving Tricare, the health care program for retirees.

Wilson said he and other GOP members have reservations about some of those proposals. Baldacci’s hiring “only heightens our concerns because they portend a future wave of reforms that may make the current proposals irrelevant,” states the Republicans’ letter to Stanley.

The Defense Department declined comment, with a spokeswoman saying Stanley will respond directly to Wilson. Baldacci could not be reached for comment, and has referred past questions to Defense Department officials.

Wilson said Thursday that Baldacci has contacted his office, seeking a meeting. Wilson said he plans to meet with Baldacci, though probably not until after March 28, when Congress returns from a one-week recess. Wilson said he will keep an “open mind” but he is more concerned about cutting federal spending than “creating jobs.”

Stanley was a witness at an unrelated hearing before Wilson’s subcommittee Tuesday, when Wilson brought up and criticized Baldacci’s hiring. Wilson said then that he was surprised earlier in the month to learn of the new position.

Stanley said Tuesday that Baldacci was hired to do a “deep-dive review” of how the military runs its health care and wellness programs, even as the Defense Department makes short-term plans.

Asked how Baldacci was hired, a Defense Department spokeswoman said Stanley talked to Baldacci last fall about the governor’s education reform initiatives in Maine.

“During those discussions, he learned more of Mr. Baldacci’s commitment to public service as well as specifics of his extensive executive experience and interactions with the military,” the spokeswoman said. “The timing of this conversation coincided with Dr. Stanley’s expressed need to conduct a full-scale review and evaluation of military health care for (the Defense Department) and the associated impacts on the health of our force.”

Maine’s congressional delegation has supported Baldacci’s hiring. Republican U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have said that Baldacci was active on veterans and military health care issues both as a House member and governor.

As governor, Baldacci also was the force behind Dirigo Health, an effort to increase the number of people with health insurance and focus on preventive care.

Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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