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 of all construction projects over $100 million, preferably to the Army Corps of Engineers.
That stipulation arose after allegations that VA officials have “fundamentally mismanaged” the Aurora project—now estimated to cost $1.675 billion, more than three times its original budget—and failed to control runaway costs on VA hospital construction in Orlando and New Orleans, among others. The Corps has already taken over project management in Aurora.
The down-to-the-wire vote in the House upheld the Senate’s version of the funding bill. It authorizes the VA to reallocate monies internally to finish the Aurora project. Congress had approved two stopgap funding measures for the project earlier this year.
“Billions of dollars have been wasted by the VA on mismanaged construction projects which could have gone instead towards veterans’ health care and benefits,” said Congressman Mike Coffman (R-Colo.).
The bill’s passage came only after a noisy dispute in the House, led by Jeff Harris (R-Fla.), chairman of the House veterans committee, over the source of the funds. Harris insisted that $200 million of the final $625 million be shifted from a pool for VA employee bonuses. Harris eventually backed away from that demand and the House unanimously approved the bill.
Colorado congressional officials hope that passage of the bill marks the final chapter in a long funding battle that peaked last December. That’s when 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 KT.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (D) said in a statement, “For now, 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.”
The Aurora hospital is years behind schedule and unlikely to be complete before the end of 2017.