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VA Medical Construction Over Budget, Behind Schedule

The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) largest construction projects are massively over budget and behind schedule, a government watchdog told Congress today.

Four of the Department’s largest medical center construction projects are, on average, $366 million over budget and almost three years behind schedule, according to Lorelei St. James of the Government Accountability Office (GAO). St. James testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

The GAO examined four VA construction projects in Las Vegas, Orlando, Denver, and New Orleans, which experienced cost increases ranging from 59 percent to 144 percent, according to St. James’ written testimony.

“We recognize that some cost increases and schedule delays result from factors beyond VA’s control,” St. James said in her written testimony. “However, our review of VA’s largest projects indicated weaknesses in VA’s construction management processes also contributed to cost increases and schedule delays.”

Today’s hearing was the latest congressional broadside against the VA, which has faced intense criticism for its slow processing of disability claims for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other conflicts, and other alleged failings.

Among the VA’s construction weaknesses are poor communication among VA offices and the building contractors, St. James said, citing an instance when two VA offices gave conflicting directions to contractor officials, resulting in an expensive mistake.

Additionally, St. James said the VA does not always employ medical equipment planners in its construction projects. This resulted, in one instance, of VA staff with “limited experience” trying to determine how new medical technologies could fit into a planned facility.

“In Orlando, medical equipment specifications changed several times and led to cost increases of at least $14 million in addition to schedule delays, as these issues forced VA to suspend construction until the issues were resolved,” St. James said.

Schedule delays on VA construction projects can have serious repercussions for veterans.

“Delayed care is denied care,” said Subcommittee Ranking Member Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.).

“When the VA does healthcare right, it is second to none,” Subcommittee Chairman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said. However, he called the VA’s current management of construction projects, “abysmal.”

Cost and schedule overruns on federal construction projects are not isolated to the VA. Projects as disparate as the Department of Transportation’s “Big Dig” tunnel in Boston, the Department of Energy’s proposed uranium and plutonium facilities, and the General Services Administration’s federal courthouses construction projects have been plagued by overruns totaling billions of dollars and many years.

The VA has 50 medical facility construction projects under way, with each costing at least $10 million, St. James said. The reason for the uptick in construction is because the agency’s “existing infrastructure does not fully align with the current health care needs of the veteran population,” she said.

“The emerging requirements in healthcare today are so different from what returning veterans received in World War II, Vietnam and beyond,” said Glenn Haggstrom at the hearing, principal executive director of the Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction at the VA.

VA medical centers from that era were not built with women’s healthcare and mental healthcare in mind, Haggstrom said.

By: Mia Steinle
Investigator, POGO

Mia Steinle, Investigator Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight and the civil society coordinator for the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Her work focuses on government management of the oil, gas, and mining industries.

Topics: Contract Oversight

Related Content: Veterans Affairs

Authors: Mia Steinle

Submitted by Tigermac at: May 11, 2013
The Government with what they see as their own personal piggy Bank, our tax money, will never care about how much they spend on a project. They have their favorite private and federal contractors who bid extremely low on a project, knowing that the project they are bidding on cannot be completed on the money they won the contract with, so when they are well into completing the contract all of a sudden they have enormous cost over runs, which enables the Contractor to make Billions of dollars in profits. The Government does things differently then a business does, a business will get a price to do a project, they will also get a completion date. If there are cost over runs and delays then it comes out of the Contractors pocket, because the business is only responsible for the price agreed too in the contract and generally if the project is going to go beyond the completion date the Contractor is fined so much each day the project is delayed. The Government on the other hand gives one of their favorite Contractors a project and if there are cost over runs the taxpayer is stuck with the bill. The Government will pay out taxpayer money even when the project is not completed, so there is no incentive for the Contractor to complete the project on time. The politicians involved with the project will get huge bribes from the contractor, because with cost over runs and delays the Contractor will make hundreds of Millions of dollars in profits. To help make up for some of the money paid out for cost over runs and delays, and loopholes in tax codes for the rich, the government takes money out of the pockets of the poor, sick, disabled and Veterans, in the form of lowering food stamps, cutting fuel assistance projects, minimizing health care services and making Social Security COLA raises a small percentage of the actual cost of living. Veterans are suffering from up to a year delay in getting medical treatment and too many are homeless and even getting arrested and fined for taking food out of garbage dumpsters. This is the way the criminal culture in Washington DC says thanks for your service.

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