Take a second to imagine the worst construction project that you ever worked on. Chances are, it was either over budget or finished behind schedule. Now, imagine working on a project that is not only a year behind schedule, but $1 BILLION over budget. No, not $1 Million…$1 BILLION. With a big ole fat “B” right at the beginning of it. That’s a pretty good reason to name a project the “Biggest Construction Failure Ever.”
That’s exactly the deficit that the Department of Veterans Affairs has gotten themselves into by once again proving that they are unfit to handle large construction projects. The new medical center in Denver, Colorado was originally supposed to cost $328 million dollars in 2005 and then ballooned to $880 million after lobbyists convinced Congress to throw more money at it, and now, 10 years later, has reached astronomical heights at a cost of $1.73 billion dollars. There’s that “B” again. This complex was supposed to serve roughly 400,000 former military service members and their families, but this ongoing delay undoubtedly has them questioning if they will ever get to use the facility.
The “Government Accountability Office”, which appears to be the excuse giving parent to VA's annoying child, cited several reasons as to what was behind the inflating cost of the project. Stating "changes to veterans' health care needs, site-acquisition issues, and a decision in Denver to change plans from a medical center shared with a local medical university to a standalone VA medical center." So basically they decided to do a renovation, to an addition, to a building under construction. Once you spend $500mil on a building that isn’t complete and has changed three times you don’t really have a choice but to finish it. The recent Congress approved $100 million for three more weeks of work, won’t even finish the project. And the kicker is, after almost $2 billion dollars in spending for this project, you wouldn’t even bat an eye at it. It looks like Cold War-era drab. Currently, the VA is running an impressive 30 months behind schedule, on average, for each of its construction projects. If this is how the VA runs construction can you imagine how they treat our Vets?
The VA later laid out a short-term plan to avoid the aforementioned shutdown. In a memo release by the VA they stated that in order to prevent the shutdown Colorado Veterans will have to do without a planned community living center and a post-traumatic stress disorder residential clinic. Secretary of the VA McDonald said that these moves were not “the best decision for Colorado veterans," but were "the only option available" under a Congressional mandate to cut costs. And as if that were not unbelievable enough; McDonald asked for additional $100’s of millions from congress on top of the other $100 million asked for last week. The loss of these two buildings further accentuates the failure of this project. PTSD is a disorder that does not and traditionally has not received enough attention from our military or Government. So it is a shame that once again this vital facility is cut due to Government incompetence. As for a Community Living Center it sounds important and is probably much needed, but, as with many things, it will be up to charities and non-profits to pick up the slack.
This situation, as well as past situations involving the VA, have prompted Republican Rep., Jeff Miller, of Florida to introduce a bill that would take the VA out of the business of constructing medical facilities that cost more than $100 million. If we’re being honest, $100 million dollars is still probably too much for them to handle. According to The Hill, that bill was added to the National Defense Authorization Act as an amendment and recently passed with a vote of 71-25. All projects over that threshold will now be overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers.
After conducting a thorough review, the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that gross mismanagement of the project’s Integrated Design and Construction methodology was the main contributing factor to the delays and project overruns. The VA had actually never used that project delivery system on any of their projects previously. In the Corps official report, which can be viewed here, the group also blamed the fact that the project executive was some 2,000 miles away, which did not allow for proper oversight; the lack of “disciplined governance,” which allowed for a constant change of scope with little to no regard for cost or time impact; and lack of proper staffing and resources in the local Department of Veteran’s Affairs.