Watchdog: Follow the Money

Cost overruns, delays plague huge Veterans Administration building projects

|
Politics,Congress,Watchdog,House of Representatives,Veterans Affairs,Waste and Fraud,Follow the Money,Veterans,Logan Porter

Major Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility construction projects are on average 35 months late and $360 million over budget, a congressional panel was told Tuesday.

The projects demonstrate a pervasive problem at VA of late and over-budget construction, according to members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

One such project is in Denver, where a $604 million VA hospital facility has turned into a nearly $1 billion design yet to be built.

The project, highlighted by subcommittee chairman Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., was similar to other VA projects with out-of-control costs and delays in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla.

The Orlando project, a massive, $665 million 334-bed hospital complex, was originally scheduled for completion by April 2010 following a 2008 groundbreaking.

The department now hopes to have the facility open to veterans by March 2015, $150 million over budget.

“I think the Cubs are going to win the World Series before that hospital is finished in Orlando, Florida,” said Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.

The hearing focused on the proposed VA Construction Assistance Act of 2013, a bipartisan measure that is intended to help slow or end delays and cost overruns by transferring oversight of troubled projects to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers supervisors.

“You’ve got a third party who can look after your interests and watch over the project,” Roe said of the Army Corps of Engineers.

“I would think that you all would want that, to have an objective party overlooking the project," he said.

Stella Fiotes, executive director of VA’s construction and facilities management office, told the panel that the failures highlighted during the hearing aren't evidence that the VA needs stronger oversight or legislative reform.

“We do not believe that the establishment of this special project manager will aid the project because of the complex contractual relationship between VA and the contractor,” she said.

Fiotes said Corps involvement could create “uncertainty over the authority and the role of the special project manager.”

In addition, Fiotes said, “we do have numerous project team members and project executives looking out for the interest of the government.”

“Well, who was looking out for Orlando?” asked Roe.

Fiotes also took issue with the methods the Government Accountability Office and the committee used to calculate cost and time overruns for the major VA projects.

“Starting at some point in the very early planning stages when the project and site were not defined, and then taking and comparing that to many years later with a real design and a real construction project, we believe was not an accurate depiction,” she said.

“So, it’s whatever you say it is on any given day,” Coffman responded.

The bill is sponsored by Coffman and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., the panel's ranking member.

Video of the full committee hearing is available here.

View article comments Leave a comment