Senate defense policy bill strips VA authority over construction projects

Senate defense policy bill strips VA authority over construction projects
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The Senate’s $612 billion defense policy bill strips the Veterans Affairs Department of its authority to run large construction projects, transferring it to the Army Corps of Engineers.

The amendment to the chamber’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which lawmakers passed 71-25 on Thursday, is a rebuke of the agency over its effort to build a 184-bed replacement hospital in the suburb of Aurora, Colo. That project has been plagued by delays and cost overruns.

The provision, sponsored by Colorado Sens. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetMichael Bennet is close to deciding on possible presidential bid Senators ask CBO to review options for preventing surprise medical bills Court-packing becomes new litmus test on left MORE (D) and Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Overnight Defense: Trump to reverse North Korea sanctions imposed by Treasury | Move sparks confusion | White House says all ISIS territory in Syria retaken | US-backed forces report heavy fighting | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan Overnight Health Care: CDC pushes for expanding HIV testing, treatment | Dem group launches ads attacking Trump on Medicare, Medicaid cuts | Hospitals, insurers spar over surprise bills | O'Rourke under pressure from left on Medicare for all MORE (R), gives the Army Corps of Engineers management power over VA construction projects that cost more than $100 million.

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Earlier this year the Army Corps of Engineers estimated that the Aurora project, which began more than a decade ago, would wind up costing $1.73 billion, more than five times the facility’s original $328 million price tag.

Congress has voted twice in recent weeks to approve legislative patches to raise the funding cap for the proposed Colorado hospital so that construction wouldn’t grind to a halt. 

The project has strained the relationship between VA Secretary Robert McDonald and lawmakers, who have called on the department to institute a number of reforms to rein in building costs in Colorado and at other major medical facility projects across the country.

The Senate approved its annual defense policy blueprint despite a veto threat from President Obama. 

The measure must now be merged with the House's defense policy bill, which passed the lower chamber last month.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhat should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report? Tom Daschle: McCain was a model to be emulated, not criticized Former astronaut running for Senate in Arizona returns money from paid speech in UAE MORE (R-Ariz.) is hopeful a joint bill could be hammered out and voted on as soon as next month.