Four veterans-hospital projects are collectively $1.5 billion over their original cost estimates and, on average, nearly three years behind their original schedules due to poor management by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office.

GAO Director Lorelei St. James told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on May 7 that the VA's construction management practices need improvement.

The report cited as common problems the VA's slow response to change orders, failure to identify the responsibilities of construction management staff and inefficient selection of medical equipment.

"The cost increases for these projects ranged from 59% to 144%, with ... an average increase of approximately $366 million," the report stated. "Delays for these projects range from 14 to 74 months."

VA officials pointed out that, once construction started, delays lessened.

One project that has continued to face delays after construction is the $300-million Orlando, Fla., hospital, where the VA repeatedly has threatened to terminate its general contractor. The Orlando project was hindered by a reliance on "local … staff with limited experience in procuring medical equipment," which caused changes to equipment specifications, alterations to the facility's design and demolition of new construction, says GAO.

St. James also testified that the New Orleans and Orlando contractors reported that it was common for the VA to take as long as six months to respond to a change order.

During testimony before the House committee, Glenn D. Haggstrom, executive director of the VA's Office of Acquisitions, Logistics and Construction, came under fire from Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) for receiving $54,792 in bonuses over the past four years.