Friday, March 13, 2015

House, Senate Leaders Call for Answers on Construction Delays, Cost Overruns at Colorado VA Hospital

The leadership of the House and Senate VA Committees have joined together to call for answers.  The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Johnny Isakson and the Ranking Member is Richard Blumenthal while the House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair is Jeff Miller and the Ranking Member is Corrine Brown.

Contact: Amanda Maddox (Isakson), 202-224-7777
Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Curt Cashour (Miller), 202-225-3527
Josh Zembik (Blumenthal), 202-224-6452
David Simon (Brown), 202-225-0123
House, Senate Leaders Call for Answers on Construction Delays, Cost Overruns at Colorado VA Hospital
WASHINGTON – Leaders of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs this week called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the ongoing problems that have plagued the replacement Denver VA Medical Center hospital, including mismanagement that has led to hundreds of millions in cost overruns and repeated delays.
In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, along with Reps. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Corrine Brown, D-Fla., chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, respectively, requested a detailed analysis of the project’s construction costs and updates on efforts to hold those responsible for the cost overruns and delays accountable.
“It is crucial that we get answers from Secretary McDonald about his plans to address these issues surrounding the construction cost overruns and serious schedule delays at the Denver VA Medical Center,” said Isakson, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “First and foremost, we must ensure the veterans of Colorado are provided for, and completion of the project is critical in providing necessary care and support. We must also get to the bottom of what went wrong here and hold accountable the VA and those responsible for the gross mismanagement of this construction project. As one of my top priorities to bring oversight directly to the VA, I intend to make Denver one of the next in a series of VA site visits and field hearings conducted by the Senate VA committee.”
“Months after the biggest construction failure in VA history, and weeks before work is yet again set to stop on the replacement Denver VA medical center, the department hasn’t provided Congress the information required to get the effort back on track,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “Since the project’s inception, the cost of the hospital has ballooned from $328 million to $800 million, and now it looks as if the price tag could top $1 billion. Absent a VA plan to hold the employees responsible for this massive failure accountable and ensure the project is completed in a timely fashion, authorizing any more money for this project would simply be irresponsible. We are committed to ensuring all veterans receive the best health care possible. But in order for that to happen, VA must put forth a plan to solve its construction challenges once and for all. That hasn’t happened yet.”

"Veterans in Denver and the surrounding area deserve the best medical care available in the state-of-the-art facility they were promised years and years ago—delays and mismanagement of the construction for the replacement VA Medical Center are simply unacceptable,” said Blumenthal, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “Secretary McDonald must be more transparent regarding the ongoing issues that led to these delays and cost overruns, and any actions the VA is taking to prevent them on future projects. Further, the American public, particularly our nation’s veterans, deserve to know who is responsible and what will be done to remedy these serious issues. As Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to call on the Secretary to make good on his promise of transparency and accountability at the VA."
“As the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, I urge the VA to immediately address the serious issues concerning funding at the Denver VA Medical Center,” said Rep. Corrine Brown, Ranking Member, House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We must ensure that America’s veterans, who have made tremendous sacrifices for our great nation, receive the best care available from our VA medical facilities.   I am confident that under the leadership of Secretary McDonald, the Department of Veterans Affairs is capable of bringing a quick resolution to the management problems at this facility.  Along with my colleagues on the committee, I will be vigilant in ensuring that the VA carries out this important task.”
The group has requested a response from Secretary McDonald no later than Monday, March 16, 2015.
Full text of the letter is provided below, and the letter can also be viewed online here.
March 10, 2015
The Honorable Robert A. McDonald                                     
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC  20240
Dear Secretary McDonald:
The VA notified Congress in responses to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee pre-hearing questions for the February 11, 2015 budget hearing, that it would need an interim increase in the funding authorization cap and a reprogramming of about $200 to $240 million from other VA projects to continue construction of the replacement Denver VA Medical Center.  Work on this project is estimated to cease on March 29, 2015, without additional funding. As you are aware, Congress originally authorized and appropriated $800 million to build the replacement Denver VA Medical Center. To date, you have provided Congress no report on the need for a cap increase, any analysis for the cost overruns or updates on efforts to hold properly accountable those responsible. To consider any further funding authorization cap increase and reprogramming request, we ask that you respond to the following questions:
1.      We have been informed that, as of February 26, VA has already reprogrammed over $56 million from other sources to accommodate some of the additional funds that will be needed to complete the project in Denver.  Please identify any other sources of funds in addition to the $56 million which have been reprogrammed to date.
2.      Please identify any further reprogramming you may request, the specific facilities impacted and the amount of funding from each facility.  Also, identify what delays, if any, will be associated with the reprogramming of funds from these other facilities.
3.      Please provide the Committees with an update on the progress of the administrative investigation board review that was convened in January to investigate mismanagement and misconduct concerning the replacement Denver VA Medical Center. This progress report should also include a timeline and summary of actions that VA has taken to ensure accountability in this matter including but not limited to the convening of the administrative investigation board, information on when you anticipate the administrative investigation board will complete its work, and when subsequent disciplinary actions, as appropriate, could be expected.  In the case of serious misconduct by senior executives, we fully expect the Department to take action using the enhanced authority that Congress has provided in Public Law 113-146, “Choice Act.” Once the investigation is completed, we expect you to provide the Committees with a list of who has been, or will be, held accountable for the problems that occurred on this project.  Please include the names of the individuals, the reasoning behind the decision to hold each accountable, and what employment actions will be taken against them.
4.      Further, the Committees understand that the Army Corps of Engineers is conducting an independent detailed examination of VA’s major construction programs in order to make recommendations that can improve processes, structures, and controls related to project delivery and oversight.  Please provide the Committee with an update on this review, with specific regard to the replacement Denver VA Medical Center.
We ask that you respond to these questions and provide any additional information you have concerning the status of the replacement Denver VA Medical Center by no later than Monday, March 16, 2015. 
Thank you for your prompt consideration to our request.
Jeff Miller
Johnny Isakson
Richard Blumenthal
Corrine Brown
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.

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