A lot can be done with four years and eight million dollars — except putting solar panels on a Veterans Affairs parking garage, apparently. The project began in 2012 at the John L. McClellan Memorial Veterans Hospital in Little Rock, Ark., and isn’t expected to be finished until early 2017.
But the lagging construction in Little Rock turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.
An investigation by the VA inspector general, which was prompted by Arkansas Sen. John Boozman and Rep. French Hill, found that the VA spent $408 million on solar panel projects from 2010 through 2015 — all while veterans faced prolonged wait times to see health-care providers and process claims from the scandal-ridden health-care system.
The move to solar is part of the VA’s Green Management Program, which is tasked with installing renewable energy sources at various medical facilities. The probe included 11 out of 15 solar panel projects awarded from 2010 through 2013, which were still incomplete in 2015.
Each of the 11 solar panel sites examined were estimated to be finished within 210 to 372 days from their start date, but on average it took 1,269 for those that were completed.
The VA watchdog’s report says that, “This occurred because of planning errors, design changes, a lengthy interconnection process, and contractor delays. As a result, VA did not increase renewable energy for those solar projects in the time frame planned and incurred additional costs through needed contract modifications.”
In addition to the Little Rock site, the list includes facilities in the following locations:
- West Los Angeles, Calif.: delayed 36 months
- Gainesville, Fla.: delayed 30 months
- Tampa, Fla.: delayed 56 months
- Honolulu, Hawaii: delayed: 21 months
- Pineville, La.: delayed 31 months
- Shreveport, La.: delayed 28 months
- Jackson, Miss.: delayed 28 months
- Big Spring, Texas: delayed 11 months
- Kerrville, Texas: delayed 27 months
- San Antonio, Texas: delayed 38 months
When the Office of Inspector General finished its audit in March 2016, only two of the 11 projects reviewed were fully operational. Last month, the VA gave an update that five of the 11 are now up and running.
At the Little Rock location, which is $1.5 million over its $8 million budget, the audit found that new solar panels haven’t finished being installed due to the amount of time it is taking to dismantle and relocate old panels already at the location. The mismanaged plan revealed that a new garage is being built where the old panels are.
“To know they were going to spend money to put up solar panels knowing they would tear them down to build a parking deck in advance. No business person would make a decision like that. It just wouldn’t be done,” Congressman Hill told a local ABC affiliate.
The Daily Caller reached out to clarify why the panels were installed before the garage was complete but did not receive a call back.
A memorandum from the VA’s Interim Assistant Secretary for Management says that the agency “objects to the bias resulting from OIG’s selection of projects to audit,” because projects other than the 11 reviewed were more successful. He added that the Green Management Program has saved the VA $10 million annually — a far cry from the $408 million spent on solar panels alone.
Sen. Boozman issued a statement calling the VA’s objections to the study “unacceptable.”
“Steps must be taken to ensure that resources meant to help our veterans are not squandered on wasteful projects,” he said.