A plan by the Department of Veterans Affairs for a first-rate hospital in Denver, Colo., has spiraled so out of control that the department is over-budget, in legal trouble, wondering where it all went wrong and asking for more funds.
VA deputy secretary Sloan Gibson testified to Congress recently that the department will be engaging in extensive soul-searching in response to its failures. The hospital stands at barely 50 percent of the way to completion. While the original cost of the facility was around $604 million, the current cost has escalated to $1.1 billion dollars, with no end in sight. (RELATED: Army Engineers Take Over Hospital After VA Bungles Project)
Due to a breach of agreement, the main contractor involved, Kiewit-Turner, walked off. Now, the VA has to rely on the Army Corps of Engineers to finish a job that should have been completed in 2014, Federal News Radio reports. Once completed, it will be able to treat around 830,000 veterans and house research teams which can conduct extensive clinical trials. The old hospital was built in 1951.
On Monday, the VA launched an investigation board to find out which employees are to blame, if any, and then proceeded to ask the Corp to examine its other construction projects, as well.
“But I think some of the work that the Corps is doing for us right now to review Denver and our other major construction activity will inform that process,” Gibson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
A Government Accountability Office report re-examining the VA’s Denver project was released on Wednesday. It looked at the wide gap between initial estimated costs and total estimated costs. When the project began, the costs were listed at $328 million. The costs have since ballooned to $800 million, a 144 percent increase. The total estimated years for completion is 10.5.
“We found in April 2013 that of the four largest medical-facility construction projects VA had under way, Denver had the highest cost increase,” the report stated.
In the meantime, the department needs more money. According to Lloyd Caldwell, the Army Corps of Engineers’ director of military programs, to abandon the project now would cost more than simply bumping up the spending cap, which currently needs to be raised to $1.1 billion before June.
“What we’re after, quite simply, is doing the right thing for veterans and being a good steward of taxpayer dollars,” Gibson added. The VA hasn’t turned the entire project over to the Corps, but is strongly considering the move. Gibson spent part of the hearing calling the waste and mismanagement an absolute embarrassment, but whether his admissions will be enough to persuade Congress to send over more funds to what some are calling a “money pit” remains to be seen.
“I think the whole thing is pretty outrageous,” Republic Rep. Lee Zeldin from New York reiterated at the committee hearing.
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