There is no federal bureacracy more plagued by incompetence than the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only has the VA neglected our veterans through unacceptable delays in processing disability and compensation claims, it has also routinely made veterans wait too long for care. Across the country, VA officials have covered up information that documents the depths of the department’s dysfunction so they could collect bonuses. And it’s nearly impossible to fire anyone responsible.
Even more staggering, however, are the VA’s repeated and costly construction boondoggles.
According to members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, each major VA medical facility construction project runs an average of 35 months late and $360 million over budget. Not surprisingly, this pattern of delays and overspending has led to a battle between Congress and the VA.
The VA recently struck a last-minute deal with Congress to continue construction on a half-finished hospital in Aurora, Colo., that is now expected to cost taxpayers $1.73 billion — $1 billion more than original estimates, and nearly triple the estimate the VA gave just last year. Construction will continue for three weeks while the department tries to meet congressional demands to scale back the project to a level that won’t raise the federal deficit or affect services available to veterans elsewhere.
Consider that figure again: $1.73 billion for a single hospital. Every new hospital built in Southern Nevada over the past two decades didn’t cost that much combined.
Although members of Congress have pushed the VA to fire those responsible for the cost overruns, nobody associated with the Aurora project has been suspended or fired. The main project manager, who was part of an investigation into the project, retired a day after giving testimony to Congress under oath and will collect his full pension.
Closer to home, the VA has pushed back completion of the billion-dollar veterans medical complex in North Las Vegas that partially opened in 2012 more than three years late at about $700 million over initial cost projections. The hospital’s emergency department, which is being expanded after being built too small, was supposed to be finished this summer but now is set to open in the spring of 2016.
Even more bizarre is the case of Arkansas’ North Little Rock VA campus, where $8 million was spent in 2013 to install money-saving solar panels. Those panels have yet to be plugged in.
A congressional delegation is calling for an investigation into the solar panels, and Congress is pushing for big changes at the VA that will prevent boondoggles like those in Aurora and North Las Vegas. One idea has major construction projects being turned over to the Army Corps of Engineers. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., has introduced a bill that would prohibit the VA from overseeing any construction project that costs more than $100 million.
A dollar limit is a reasonable idea, but all that would do is ensure the VA continues to wastes hundreds of millions of dollars more. What is really needed is a bill that would abolish all future VA construction and privatize the entire operation.