Senate VA leaders want answers on construction cost overruns

The leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee are urging the VA’s internal watchdog to launch an investigation into the delays and cost overruns plaguing the agency’s major medical construction efforts.

“An improved understanding of the ongoing challenges in various construction projects will assist Congress in determining how to make the best use of taxpayer dollars with regard to VA construction,” panel Chairman Johnny IsaksonJohn (Johnny) Hardy IsaksonSenate GOP raises concerns about White House stopgap plan to avoid shutdown VA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides Senators revive effort to create McCain human rights commission MORE (R-Ga.) and ranking member Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in an April 16 letter to VA Inspector General Richard Griffin.

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The review should “examine the entire construction process, from identifying facility design elements to contract and project management project costs and schedule development,” the pair wrote.

The document is the latest development after the VA announced it would cost $1.73 billion to build a proposed 184-bed replacement facility in the suburb of Aurora, Colo., more than five times the facility’s original $328 million price tag. 

The VA said last month that Glenn Haggstrom, principal executive director of the Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, had resigned amid an internal investigation into delays and cost overruns at the facility and other agency construction sites around the country.

But that doesn’t appear to be enough for the Senate panel, which announced on Thursday that it would hold a field hearing in the Denver suburb on April 24. 

Isakson and Blumenthal also skewered a VA proposal to wipe out some of the Aurora site’s red ink by transferring money to the “choice card" effort, which allows patients who are waiting to see a doctor to get private care.

“It is disappointing to learn that the VA is proposing to use funds from the Veterans’ Choice Act to pay for cost overruns at the Denver replacement medical center — construction cost overruns that were predominately caused by gross mismanagement and a lack of accountability within the VA,” the pair said in a statement.