The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Thursday that it’s giving up control over construction of the new Aurora medical facility in Colorado to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Now with the Army Corps in charge, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson hopes the facility, which has already gone $1 billion dollars over budget, will be ready to open by 2017, AP reports.
Gibson said that an additional $830 million dollars is likely needed to see the projection to completion. The total cost now clocks in at $1.73 billion. Just last year, VA officials informed Congress that the hospital could open in 2015 and cost only $630 million dollars. Gibson claimed that he had only heard of cost overruns after the hospital’s contractor went to a federal appeals board with a breach of contract complaint against the VA. The Denver Channel reported in December 2014 that the contractor Kiewit-Turner ceased work.
But an April 2013 Government Accountability Office report found that the Denver project was already $472 million dollars over budget, leaving a very large time gap between when cost overruns were brought to the surface and when Gibson said he became aware of the overruns.
“I apologize to veterans, and I apologize to American taxpayers for the delay and the added cost,” Gibson said. Gibson added that the Aurora project is “a shade over” 50 percent finished. However, in emails from January 2015 obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, the VA stated that Aurora was 62 percent complete.
Republican Rep. Mike Coffman has proposed the idea of funneling VA executive bonuses into the hospital’s coffers as a way for the department to show how serious it is about ensuring proper management. Gibson called the proposal “a lousy idea,” since it would apparently affect everyone’s bonuses, not just the bonuses of executives.
Glenn D. Haggstrom, top construction executive responsible for the hospital, resigned last week with full benefits, much to the outrage of House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller, who argued that Haggstrom should have been fired years ago. (RELATED: Lawmakers Outraged That VA Official Of Mangled Project Will Retire With Full Benefits)
Haggstrom received $64,000 dollars of bonuses since 2007, despite cost overruns in Aurora and poor management in general. Aurora is the most expensive VA project in the department’s history. Gibson still maintains that Haggstrom had a legal right to retire. Haggstrom took full advantage of that legal right the day after he was questioned under oath in an internal inquiry. However, the VA also opposes the Increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015. This piece of legislation would lower the amount that employees in the senior executive service could collect from their pensions if convicted of a crime related to work at the VA.
Lawmakers have repeatedly asked why the VA is in the business of building hospitals at all, given that cost overruns and delays have been duplicated across the country in Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando.
While Gibson has apologized, lawmakers aren’t satisfied. (RELATED: VA Hospital In Shambles, Executives Beg For More Money From Congress)
Still, Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter thinks Congress will eventually relent and fork out the funds necessary to finish the 184-bed hospital. Veterans are torn. While they view accountability as necessary and important, they have also been pressuring legislators not to be so obstinate, as they view the hospital as a much-needed upgrade. For many, the old, creaky hospital feels like it’s straight out of the 1950s. Republican Rep. Ken Buck is at the forefront of opposition to loosening the purse strings.
“I’m very disappointed and frankly disgusted, and I’m not going to commit to any future spending unless, one, people are held accountable; two, they find ways to reduce that overall cost from $1.7 billion; and three, there are some very serious reforms made at the VA,” Buck said, according to The Denver Post.
If the VA doesn’t receive an injection of federal money soon, construction could grind to a halt in June. The VA has not submitted any legislative proposal to Congress to authorize additional funds for the Aurora project.
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