VA: Time to leave the construction business?

VA: Time to leave the construction business?

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HCVA) held a Nov. 20 hearing that examined the state of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ major construction and lease programs. VA currently has major building projects in Las Vegas, Denver, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla.

VA’s construction programs have been criticized for delays and cost overruns at its four major building sites that have added nearly $1.5 billion of expenses and have stymied construction work for up to 74 months, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

VA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has also identified serious deficiencies in VA’s ability to construct new medical centers and other facilities. At the hearing, VAOIG’s Linda Halliday testified that reviews of VA’s construction and leasing programs “have disclosed a pattern of poor oversight, ineffective planning and mismanagement of capital assets in VA.”

Halliday said that VAOIG has noted instances where facilities were leased or constructed by VA, “then stood empty and under-utilized.” Although some VA building projects were properly authorized, they were “executed over-budget and delivered well past their anticipated completion date.”

In testimony submitted for the record, The American Legion said it has been researching and reviewing possible policy changes to VA’s construction and leasing programs. Findings and recommendations will be presented to the Legion’s voting membership in its upcoming Washington Conference in March.

As part of its research, the Legion has met with senior officials from The Army Corps of Engineers, VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics & Construction (OALC), and its Office of Construction and Facilities Management (OCFM). Regarding the Corps of Engineers, the Legion found that it:

  • Is adequately suited to undertake the long-term mission of managing VA’s construction portfolio
  • Possesses a track record that is equal to or better than the federal industry standard regarding on-time, on-budget construction projects
  • Has worked on VA construction projects in the past
  • Routinely builds hospitals for the Department of Defense.

The Legion found that the Corps of Engineers has “more transparency and ready access to information regarding overhead expenses and actual costs than with private firms.... Information about Army Corps can also be found at the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, as well as other federal research activities and offices.”
 
Based on its initial research, the Legion believes the Corps of Engineers should not be inserted into current VA construction projects, but could possibly be used in future ones. That forward-looking approach, the Legion testified, “will be the subject of our pending resolutions and recommendations. That said, it is also true that the Army Corps of Engineers is routinely relied on to offer oversight and advice when federal projects are not performing as planned, thus giving Army Corps the reputation of expert in the construction management industry.”

VA’s recently created Construction Review Council (CRC) has made several recommendations for improvement to the department’s construction practices, including coordination of the department’s SCIP (Strategic Capital Investment Planning) program with budgets adequate enough to assure alignment with services and related initiatives.

At its 2012 national convention in Indianapolis, The American Legion passed a resolution on the SCIP program. It calls on Congress to provide increased appropriations annually to address VA construction deficiencies identified by SCIP, and for VA to include facility activation costs in future SCIP projections and allocations.

Gauging the impact of the CRC’s recommendations is not yet possible, the Legion testified, because “no new projects have been initiated since the implementation of these recommendations...”

If the HCVA were to consider changing the current process for VA construction, The American Legion “would insist that language be included into any bill that requires any contracting agency participating in VA construction activities be required to adhere to VA’s Vets First contracting policies, in accordance with Public Law 109-461, and all applicable VA procurement policies regarding veteran small-business procurement priorities.”

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Norman Clendenin (CA Dept)

November 25, 2013 - 6:29pm

Dear National Commander Dellinger, The VA hospital has many problems with regard to their Form, Function and Economy, but there are more serious problems than just the obvious. I have specialized in hospitals in the strategic / tactical planning, procurement, FTEs, design and construction for over 45 years and the VA has not changed for the better in servicing our veterans with quality care and a functional hospital. VA system is so far outdated in every respect due to their Federal Acquisition Regulation and planning, design/construction policies that date back to the WWII era. The Corp of Engineers, OALC and OCFM follow these same regulations / policies which are outdated. If VA has created a construction review committee (CRC) and strategic capital Investment planning (SCIP), the problems is not going to change since the policies that they follow and is set will be the same as in the past. I have visited the Washington, DC OCFM several times and they are “riddled” with policies / regulations that make them entirely ineffective as to the budget, procurement and design / construction of VA facilities. I’ll give you an example, the VA hospital (completed in 1987) at the TX Medical Ctr. (Houston)which is a massive over-structured building with a “bomb shelter” and a “underground tunnel levy” with submergible pumps in case of flooding at a cost of $ millions and this facility was extremely over the budget. This facility seems to be a carry over in the case of a “nuclear attack”. The methods of hospital design and construction types have not changed. I was the Director of Design / Construction for Baylor College of Medicine which furnished “MD interns” for their last two-four years before they could receive their medical practice license. The VA process to provide their medical facilities is no different than their record keeping and providing benefits to veterans (800 T behind) and this process needs a complete overhaul. I could list 100s of issues with regard to improving their system of providing modern VA health facilities, but it will not be implemented by them.

Steve A.

November 24, 2013 - 12:09am

The VA should be issuing an Insurance Card that allows a veteran to go to any doctor in the world. Specialists that can treat men or women right away instead of this constant bureaucratic waste of taxpayer money.

Faye

November 22, 2013 - 6:20pm

LIKE ALL GOVERNMENT PROJECTS THERE IS WASTE IN THE VA. BUT WHAT EVER YOU DO THE VETERANS DESERVE TO BE TAKEN CARE OF FOR THE PRICE THEY PAID TO PROTECT ALL AMERICANS. IF COST IS THE PROBLEM YOU SEE IN THE VA, THEN YOU SHOULD START CUTTING AT THE TOP OF THE HEAP, WHICH MEANS THE THE CONGRESS AND PRESIDENT SALARY SHOULD BE CUT NOT THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SERVED OUR NATION AT A GREAT COST TO THEIR FAMILY. I VOLUNTEER AT A VA FACILITY AND I SEE THE COST OF WAR TO THE WARRIORS. POLICE THE COST OF WASHINGTON NOT THE RETURNING WARRIORS WHOSE LIVES HAVE CHANGED FOREVER.

Ernest Clyde Duncan

November 22, 2013 - 3:49pm

I have no further comments.

Ernest C. Duncan

November 22, 2013 - 3:46pm

I would suggest that The VA evaluate The size Medical center That they would in an area. Hire a private construction company to Estimate the cost Of construction. Take bids from private Companies, and allow the lowest Bidder to build.

wingrider6

November 21, 2013 - 4:06pm

Construction? It's time to end this multi-billion dollar boondoggle called VA medical. If (and this is a different argument) everyone who ever wore a uniform is entitled to free, lifetime medical care then institute an insurance system similar to Tricare. I am retired military and have used Tricare and find it a good system. Maybe expensive to DOD but certainly much cheaper than VA's medical system. Besides with the many instances like in Jacksonville, MS and at Marion IL I would never go to the VA for medical care.

ChuckI

November 21, 2013 - 4:05pm

For me the true question is why is the VA still in the medical business at all. When the VA medical system was set up there were 16M+ veterans returning from was and the Medical system did not exist to support those number of people. Today we have the best medical system (not the cheapest) in the world. Why not enroll separating service members in TRICARE with an option to purchase coverage for his family then or in the future. The VA could pay the part B and D for those over 65. Everyone covered now will be covered but will have a choice where to seek treatment. Frankly, the quality of health care varies greatly within the VA, some place are good, other not so good. Just some thoughts.

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