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Bill Would Take VA Out of Construction

Friday, June 12, 2015

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WASHINGTON--Burned by a budget-busting hospital project, Colorado's senators are seeking to get the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs out of the construction business.

Legislation filed Wednesday (June 10) as an amendment to the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act would put the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of all VA construction projects valued at more than $100 million.

The bill is sponsored by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO).

Capitol Building
Architect of the Capitol

Proposed legislation would transfer Veterans Affairs' construction management to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The move is in response to the troubled VA hospital project in Aurora, CO, which is designed to replace an aging facility in Denver. The project has seen its cost nearly triple from the original estimate of $600 million to $1.73 billion.

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) proposed a similar measure in the House earlier this year. That measure would impose a $10 million limit on projects overseen by the VA.

‘Unfit to Manage’

"Through their incompetence, delays, and complete lack of accountability, the VA has proven that it is unfit to manage its own major construction," Gardner said in a statement.

"It's time to get the VA out of the construction business, and get the responsibility for completing these critical projects into the hands of more competent agencies.”

In a separate amendment to the defense bill, Bennet and Gardner directed the Government Accountability Office to look into the overruns.

Aerial of VA hospital under construction

The VA and Congress are negotiating an agreement for about $625 million more, which the department says is needed to finish the hospital project near Denver.

"Given its complete mismanagement of the project in Aurora and of several other facilities across the country, it's time to put an end to the VA's construction authority," Bennet said. "It is an important step toward accountability that will help us put in place a plan to complete the medical facility in Aurora."

Funding Negotiations Underway

The Army Corps of Engineers took charge of construction of the 11-building, 182-bed project near Denver in April.

Funding for the project, however, is expected to run out in the coming days.

The VA and Congress are negotiating an agreement for about $625 million more, which the department says is needed to finish the project.

In part, the VA’s plan suggests taking away funds from other VA construction projects to finish the Aurora complex.

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

He said the department was reorganizing and transforming to become the “Veterans-centric, customer service-oriented organization Veterans have earned and deserve.”

Missteps in Colorado

In April, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said that a number of issues had 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.

Sloan Gibson
Official photo

VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson has apologized to veterans and to American taxpayers for the delays and the added costs associated with the Denver hospital project.

“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.

Construction on the complex began three years ago. When complete, the facility will serve 390,000 veterans and their families in the Colorado area.


Tagged categories: Architecture; Design; General contractors; Good Technical Practice; Government; Government contracts; Health Care/Hospitals; North America; Subcontractors

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