WASHINGTON — A powerful Republican lawmaker is questioning the Defense Department’s hiring of former Maine Gov. John Baldacci to work on military health care reform.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s military personnel subcommittee, raised concerns during a hearing Tuesday that Baldacci’s new position, which pays $165,300 for a year, is a wasteful “duplication” of work already done by Defense Department officials.

Wilson plans to deliver a speech today to “discuss his thoughts on the new ‘military health care czar’ and other military health care issues,” according to a release Wednesday from his office.

Baldacci’s job calls for one year of work, with an option for the contract to be extended.

As Maine governor, Baldacci was paid $70,000 a year.

Baldacci, a Democrat who served four terms in Congress before his two terms as governor, referred questions about his hiring last week to Defense Department officials. He did not respond Wednesday to a phone message left at his office.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Wilson noted that the military has submitted a proposal for 2012 to raise the cost for enrollees of Tricare, the military health care program for retirees. He said he was surprised to learn last week about Baldacci’s new position, and questioned whether it duplicates other officials’ duties.

“I’m concerned,” Wilson told Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, who hired Baldacci.

Stanley responded 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.

“I needed an outside look and I had a member of Congress, as well as a former governor now who served two terms, to help with not only Guard and Reserve issues, but also looking at the holistic viewpoint of readiness, of wellness, of looking at how we are going to do patient satisfaction, and the cost was the last piece,” Stanley said at the hearing. “So duplication is not what I actually see right now.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said Wednesday that Baldacci, who was elected to the U.S. House in 1994 and then elected governor in 2002, was active on veterans and military health care issues during his tenure in Congress.

She said he is an “ideal fit” to help the Defense Department study how to improve its health care practices.

Maine’s Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud said Wednesday that he has spoken to Baldacci about his new position and urged him to examine the issue of extending better preventive dental care to soldiers. Dental problems often “get in the way of troop readiness,” Michaud said.

The other two members of Maine’s congressional delegation, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, also have voiced support for Baldacci’s hiring. 

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

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