Congress' Sept. 30 approval of an additional $625 million to complete the bloated Veterans Affairs hospital project in Aurora, Colo., also came with a big stick: The VA must relinquish management-preferably to the Army Corps of Engineers-of all construction projects over $100 million.
That stipulation arose after allegations that VA officials have "fundamentally mismanaged" the Aurora project-now at $1.675 billion, more than triple its original budget-and failed to control runaway costs on VA hospital construction in Orlando and New Orleans, among others. The Corps already has taken over project management in Aurora.
The down-to-the-wire vote in the House upheld the Senate's version of the funding bill, which authorizes the VA to reallocate monies internally to finish the Aurora project.
"Billions of dollars have been wasted by the VA on mismanaged construction projects which could have gone, instead, toward veterans' health care and benefits," said Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.).
The bill's unanimous passage came only after Rep. Jeff Harris (R-Fla.), chairman of the House veterans committee, dropped a demand that $200 million of the final $625 million be shifted from a pool for VA employee bonuses.
Last December, Kiewit-Turner, the Aurora VA contractor, walked off the job in a pay dispute. The shutdown came after a federal appeals panel ruled that the VA had breached its contract with K-T.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D) said in a statement, "We have the components in place to complete this facility to serve the needs of veterans in Colorado and throughout the Rocky Mountain region. Now let's finish the damn thing."