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Bill to Rein in VA Construction Control

Monday, February 15, 2016

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After a $1 billion botched Veterans’ Affairs’ hospital project in Denver, the U.S. House of Representatives has moved forward with a plan to take away some of the agency’s construction authority.

The House passed a measure that intends to increase oversight and management of VA construction projects costing more than $100 million. The bill, approved Tuesday (Feb. 9), now goes before the Senate for vote.

Architect of the capitol
Architect of the Capitol

Lawmakers say the measure will "help rein in the incompetence that permeates VA's construction efforts."

Under the bill, the VA would allow for other federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, to handle large VA projects, report say. Moreover, the agency would also be expected to keep Congress in the know regarding those projects.

“Money could not be spent on advance planning or design until 60 days after Congress is notified,” The Denver Post reports.

‘Rein in Incompetence’

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) chairman of the House VA Committee, told the newspaper that the bill would "help rein in the incompetence that permeates VA's construction efforts" while enhancing accountability and efficiency.

The bill comes in the aftermath of a troubled hospital project in Aurora, CO. Costs of that 182-bed facility have nearly tripled from original estimates and are now over $1.73 billion. The Army Corps of Engineers took control of the project in April 2015.

The project is slated for completion in 2018.

VA Officials Comment on Aurora

"The delays and cost overruns that have plagued the Denver Replacement Medical Center campus are inexcusable," VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald wrote June 5, 2015, letter to Congress.

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson has also said that a number of issues led to the hospital budget shortfall, but the biggest was probably presenting an incomplete design to a contractor that hadn’t been involved at the outset.

Denver Hospital

The VA hospital project in Aurora, CO, has tripled original cost estimates.

“We brought the contractor in late. We didn’t have the design locked down, and then we tried to lock down the price,” he said.

The design team—a joint venture of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, S.A. Miro, Cator Ruma and H+L Architects—has been under contract since January 2006. The contractor, joint venture Kiewit-Turner, was hired in 2011.

In December 2014, Kiewit-Turner walked off the hospital project after a federal board of appeals ruled that the VA had breached its contract.

The VA was then able to negotiate an interim contract with the builders to get the project moving again.

Gibson also pointed to additional factors, including lack of communication, that took a toll on the project’s budget.

When complete, the facility will serve 390,000 veterans and their families in the Colorado area.


Tagged categories: Construction; Design; Government; Government contracts; Health Care/Hospitals; Laws and litigation; Regulations

Comment from John Fauth, (2/15/2016, 9:45 AM)

I can't help but wonder if the $ 100 million threshold represents an arbitrary limit of VA competence, or a congressional admission of indifference for wasteful spending...up to a point.

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