Democratic and Republican members of Central Florida's congressional delegation have written to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki asking for answers about the agency's troubled hospital project under construction in Orlando. The Orlando Sentinel reported news of the latest congressional inquiry into the project on Feb. 15.

Representatives Corrine Brown (D), Alan Grayson (D), John Mica (R) and Daniel Webster (R) signed the Feb. 15 letter. Written in reaction to the latest development of the Orlando project's ongoing saga--the VA's requirement that contractor Brasfield & Gorrie justify why it should not be terminated--the letter seeks some elusive answers.

In the letter, the politicians decline to offer their own views on the pending decision. Quoting from the letter, here are their questions:

  • "What, in your opinion, is the most likely completion date for this project if the contractor is terminated for defaulting on the obligations outlined in the contract?
  • "What, in your opinion, is the most likely completion date if the contractor is terminated for those elements of the contract for which the contractor has yet to begin work, allowed to finish its current work, and a completion contract is awarded for future work?
  • "What, in your opinion, is the most likely completion date if the contractor proceeds--acknowledging the contractor's past performance, which is currently behind schedule and may fall further behind schedule moving forward?"
The inclusion of "in your opinion" in each of the three questions is notable in that to date, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs has publicly stated only vague estimates related to the potential schedule impact of terminating Brasfield & Gorrie. In short, the politicians clearly want a more definitive answer from the VA.

For instance, earlier this month, the VA would only state to ENR that under "standard procurement timelines," terminating Brasfield & Gorrie could delay project completion by an estimated six months--an estimate in line with the agency's previous testimony to Congress. The agency continues to state that it expects completion by this summer, however.

In January of this year, the VA sent the contractor its second cure notice, which is the department's first step in seeking a revised work plan for the project. The VA's contracting officer, evidently not satisfied with B&G's response to the cure notice, then issued a 'show cause' notice, which requires justification for not proceeding with contract termination. A spokesperson with the contractor confirmed to ENR that the firm responded to the show cause notice.

In mid-February, VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda told ENR that the VA has yet to make a decision about whether it will terminate Brasfield & Gorrie from the project.

According to both Schuda and the agency officials' testimony to Congress, these decisions remain the sole discretion of the VA's contracting officer. Though this officer was previously identified and reported by ENR as Noella A. Bond, more recently the VA would not confirm Bond's role in the latest decisions.

When the House Committee on Veterans Affairs convened a field hearing across the street from the project in Orlando last August, Bond refused to accept the congressional invitation to attend the hearing and answer questions. Also at that hearing, the VA's Glenn D. Haggstrom explained the apparent disconnect between the agency's public statements of cooperation with the contractor and its first issuance of a cure notice last July by indicating that these actions were the responsibility of the contracting officer, and that other VA officials were not involved.

Schuda said Secretary Shinseki was planning to formally respond to the letter from the Orlando-area politicians.

Below is the House Committe on Veterans' Affairs Youtube video of the Orlando field hearing.