EDITORIAL: Huge construction cost overruns show need to privatize VA

There is perhaps no bigger example of federal bloat and incompetence than the Department of Veterans Affairs. In case you’re keeping score at home, the VA has neglected our veterans through routine delays in processing disability and compensation claims, harmed them by making them wait months for appointments for routine care, and then covered up excessive wait times.

The agency’s ineptitude is also on full display when it comes to building hospitals. According to members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’ Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, major VA medical facility construction projects typically run an average of 35 months late and $360 million over budget — each. This dysfunction has led to a congressional battle regarding mismanagement of VA construction projects across the country.

The latest chapter in this saga involves the funding for a $1.675 billion VA hospital in Aurora, Colorado, which is years behind schedule, and now carries a price tag nearly three times its original projected amount.

Last month, the Senate agreed to a bill that would allow the VA to spend an additional $625 million to finish the project, but only after U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican and the powerful chairman of the House veterans committee, tried to get the agency to cover $200 million of the needed funds by using money from a fund used to pay employee bonuses. He initially successfully blocked the Senate bill from going forward in the House, but later reluctantly relented — but not without lambasting the agency for its waste and incompetence.

The fact that Rep. Miller was virtually alone in sticking his neck out on this matter is simply more proof that there is no accountability within the VA, and that even a supposedly reform-minded GOP Congress has no desire to tackle this agency’s considerable shortcomings.

If Congress was going to throw another $625 million at a hospital that was supposed to cost less than that in total, couldn’t lawmakers at least leverage some big changes? Like dumping the bonus pool, as Rep. Miller proposed. Or blocking the VA from ever being in charge of another construction project ever again. Or including in the bill the elimination of hundreds of high-level positions.

Nope. Congress was too happy to shovel a huge pile of money at a project that, for all we know, still might not be finished. At a time when lawmakers groan at every opportunity about the country’s infrastructure needs and their inability to pay for them, they just dumped another $625 million on one of the worst-managed federal construction projects in U.S. history. Are lawmakers so spineless that they’re willing to spend huge new sums of money on a project that could have been built by the private sector for 10 percent of the cost, simply because they’ve already spent a lot of money on it?

How many times do we have to say this? Shut down the VA and privatize the whole shebang.

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