Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) is an Iraq war veteran. She lost both her legs and partial use of her right arm in Iraq in 2004 when the Black Hawk helicopter she was flying got hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. In November, she became the first disabled woman to be elected to the House of Representatives.
She may be fairly new to Congress, but she’s clearly up to speed on delivering a public shaming. At a Wednesday hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Duckworth took on Braulio Castillo, the president and CEO of Strong Castle, Inc., an IT company that was awarded more than a dozen contracts with the IRS, potentially worth more than $500 million.
“The IRS is not blameless in this matter,” the committee report says. “The IRS single-handedly helped Strong Castle grow from a business with $250,000 in annual revenue to one that won over $500 million of potential awards in just six months.”
But it was Castillo’s behavior that raised Duckworth’s ire and led to the memorable exchange in the video above. Castillo, according to a report by the committee, gained an advantage during the contracting process because of his “cozy relationship” with Greg Roseman, the IRS’s deputy director for IT acquisition. The report also says that Castillo gamed the system to win access to contracts specially set aside for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans and those located in poorer neighborhoods. To get credentialed as a “Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business,” Castillo used a foot injury he said he suffered in 1984 at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. He later went on to play college football. He did not go on to serve in the military and never saw combat.
Castillo testified that his company competed fairly for every IRS contract it received and did not seek or receive any unfair advantage. In an earlier email to a Veterans’ Administration examiner, Castillo called his injuries “crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country. I would do it again to protect this great country.”That line clearly got Tammy Duckworth’s attention. “I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country," she says to Castillo. "Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws...but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, right now, are waiting an average of 237 days for an initial disability rating and it's because people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog so that young men and women who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, who are missing limbs, cannot get the compensation and the help that they need."
At the end of her questioning, Duckworth acknowledges she’s gone over her allotted time and yields back to committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA). "I thank the gentlelady," Issa said. "And the time was well-spent."
Watch the video and you’ll likely agree.