The VA’s Legacy of Poor Hospital Construction
It’s no surprise that large building projects—hospitals, office buildings, or even a home—can be delayed and over budget. Planning and construction happens over the course of months and years; even the slightest mistake or holdup can negatively influence the completion time.
We all know that public works projects and federal oversight for state and federal departments have something of a negative stereotype. The government overcharges for materials and labor causing everything to run over budget and behind schedule.
The VA is a massive federal department. According to the VA, it operates nearly 1,500 facilities, employs tens of thousands of personnel, and receives a budget of almost $160 billion! If the VA were a country, the IMF would rank it between Kuwait and Venezuela in terms of worth.
It is understandable that large corporations, departments, and even countries can struggle with improving their infrastructure. But the VA has a reputation of botching huge projects that were intended to be a catalyst for improved Veterans services.
A Billion Dollar Hole
Currently, the VA is constructing an enormous stand-alone medical facility for an estimated 400,000 Veterans in the Denver, Colorado area. The only problem, according to NPR and other news outlets, is that the project is massively over budget.
It is over budget by $1.7 billion! The good people at the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have pegged the original proposal of the Denver VA facility at $328 million. How do you go over budget by over a billion dollars? Page 6 of the GAO report lists just a few of the many reasons why the Denver facility was delayed and over budget:
- necessary removal of asbestos and the unanticipated replacement of electrical systems
- delays due to the discovery of a previously paved-over swimming pool
- flooding during construction of the underground parking garage due to the discovery of a mineral-laden underground spring.
Unfortunately the damage does not stop there. A Washington Post article estimates that each of the 182 beds in the Denver VA facility costs an average of $9.5 million! The article says the average cost for most hospitals with a similar number of beds is around $2 million per bed. The article flushes out further wasted money: $100 hospital doors that ended up costing $1,400; a ballooning $100 million concourse that is not complete; millions of dollars spent on resizing rooms so medical equipment could fit in the door; the list goes on and on.
The Denver VA facility is actually only one of a handful of extremely expensive VA facilities (mainly hospitals) that are over budget and well past their completion date. Page 3 of the GAO report mentions facilities in New Orleans, Louisiana; Orlando, Florida; and Las Vegas, Nevada. Together, these four facilities are responsible for a combined 14 years of delays, and around more than $2 billion in additional expenses.
The VA Fails at Overseeing Construction Projects
According to the GAO, additional expenses range from changes in original construction plans, moving from a shared facility with a university to a stand-alone facility, and breakdowns with construction contractors.
The VA is currently overseeing 50 major medical facility projects at a combined cost of almost $12 billion, according to testimony by the Government Accountability Office before the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. One of the glaring issues—aside from terrible mismanagement of construction projects—is why the VA is even managing their own construction projects.
The Washington Post mentions that the General Services Administration handles most real estate and development projects for the federal government, while the Defense Department receives assistance from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.
Coincidentally, an NPR report stated that the Army Corps of Engineers had taken over the Denver VA facility construction from the VA.
We all know the VA has taken a serious beating in the past few years. This kind of news continues to hammer nails into the coffin of the VA reputation. Until there is improved management of taxpayer dollars, perhaps Veterans may be better served seeking help from grassroots organizations and local groups instead of the mammoth bureaucracy of the VA.