The Dept. of Veterans Affairs has received a subpoena from the House Veterans Affairs Committee, asking for more information about the VA’s long-delayed, far over-budget hospital under construction in Aurora, Colo.
The project’s cost is estimated at about $1.68 billion, more than five times the 2004 estimate of $328 million, according to a 2015 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The current price tag is down slightly from an early 2015 estimate of $1.73 billion.
The project was to be completed in 2014 but is now scheduled to be finished in 2018, according to Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a critic of the VA’s handling of the project.
The committee on Sept. 7 voted to approve the issuance of the subpoena. In a statement at the meeting that day, Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said the committee has sought, since March, more information from the VA regarding an Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) report on the hospital project.
The VA announced in January 2015 that it would convene the investigation board. In March 2016, the department said the board had determined that decisions that led to the delays and overruns “rested with executives who had departed from the VA prior to the AIB’s completion.”
The VA also said it would not take any further “adverse personnel actions” as a result of the board’s findings.
Responding to ENR’s request for comment about the subpoena, a VA spokesperson forwarded an Aug. 19 letter from Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson to Coffman, who chairs the VA oversight and investigations subcommittee.
Gibson said that, in the past two years, the department has sent the VA committee “thousands of pages of documents related to the Aurora construction projects,” including an unredacted copy of the investigative board’s final report.
Gibson also noted that he testified before the committee at hearings in 2015.
But he also said the VA would not release transcripts of interviews with individual department employees, primarily because the VA wants “to ensure the future efficacy of essential executive-branch fact-finding processes, like the AIB, to bring to light wrongdoing in a federal agency.”
Gibson also sent the letter to Rep. Ann McClane Kuster (Vt.), the subcommittee’s top Democrat.
But Miller said at the Sept. 7 committee meeting that the VA’s disclosures still fall short of what the panel wanted.
Miller said, “We will not accept VA trying to pull the wool over the eyes of this committee and the American people for poor decision-making and waste of funds made on the part of the department.”
In a voice vote, some committee members voted against issuing the subpoena. Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.), the committee’s acting ranking Democrat, unsuccessfully sought some changes in the subpoena before the vote.
The subpoena was served to the VA’s general counsel, Leigh Bradley, on Sept. 7. The document says the VA is to submit the requested information to the committee by Sept. 28.
The subpoena asks for the board’s full report and investigative file, transcripts of interviews, attachments and exhibits, as well as “all documents supporting or disputing the AIB’s findings and conclusions.”
Due to the Colorado project's problems, the VA last year turned over management there and on nine other major medical facility projects to the Army Corps of Engineers.
The House committee’s subpoena also seeks more information from the VA about the department’s expenditures on “artwork and ornamental furnishings” in the period from fiscal year 2010 to now.