WASHINGTON, D.C. — Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman says what he sees as a fiasco in Aurora’s stalled VA hospital project and similar problems across the country has prompted him to propose a bill next month that would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from managing any more construction projects.
“The core responsibility of the VA is to deliver the health care and the benefits that our men and women who have served in the military have earned through their sacrifices in defense of our country,” Coffman said. “The VA is clearly not set up to manage major construction projects and it has definitely proven that.”
Kiewit-Turner created a commotion Tuesday when they immediately stopped work on the over-budget, delayed hospital, citing a federal board of appeals ruling that the VA had breached its contract.
Construction workers pack up their personal tools Thursday morning at the over-budget Denver VA Medical Replacement Project site near Interstate 225 and East Colfax Avenue in Aurora. The project is currently on hold after a federal board of appeals ruled that the VA had breached its contract. Coffman said he and other Colorado delegates were working to keep Kiewit-Turner as the contractor for the hospital so that the 1,400 people who were laid off can come back to work.
“The veterans of the Rocky Mountain West have waited more than a decade for this hospital, and 1,400 construction workers are being sent home right before the holidays with their jobs in jeopardy as this project sits idle,” members of Colorado’s congressional delegation said in a letter to VA officials. “Given the size, scope, and importance of this construction project to our veterans and the State of Colorado, we urge in the strongest terms possible, for immediate negotiations between the VA and KT resulting in a new contract modification to allow continued construction for 60 days.”
The VA agreed this week to some of Kiewit-Turner’s demands in order to get the project back on track and get the hospital completed, Coffman said, after meeting with Colorado’s Congressional delegation in Washington D.C. Top among the demands were that the Army Corps take over management of the project. The VA also agreed to pay Kiewit a disputed $100 million for work the company provided out of pocket, he said.
Coffman crafted legislation that passed the House in September to have the Army Corps oversee all national VA construction projects, but that measure still awaits Senate action. He said the Army Corps would only be assigned to oversee the Aurora Hospital until that legislation is approved.
“We’re working on a bridge contract for 60 days to keep people on the job,” he said. “Immediately, I hope people can come back to work. It’s horrible to lay 1,400 people off before the holidays.”
Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who previously represented Aurora, said he will support Coffman’s legislation.
“While I remain focused on the immediate steps necessary to restart work on our hospital project, I’ve told Rep. Coffman I want to work with him to craft legislation to permanently strip the authority away from the VA to manage construction projects,” he said in a statement. “Placing that responsibility with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a good long-term strategy to ensure these construction projects are managed effectively and efficiently from the start, and do not waste taxpayer dollars.”
Coffman said Congress could use other money from the VA budget for the Aurora hospital, which Kiewit-Turner has long estimated will cost $1 billion — almost $400 million more than budgeted. Congress could also tap into a reserve fund for federal agencies who lose cases in court.
Early Thursday morning, the massive hospital construction site was quiet, with workers packing ladders and personal tools into a moving truck amidst a sea of eery, cement blocks and metal bars. Other workers sat morosely at a Caribou Coffee across the street.
“The Army Corps of Engineers handles construction projects for our military, so it only makes sense that it does the same for our veterans. Construction is its core mission, and it knows what it is doing while the VA is way out of its lane of expertise,” Coffman said.
The VA said in a statement it is actively working with Kiewit-Turner and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to try to complete the project.
However, Kiewit-Turner has not agreed to return to the project.
“We have had conversations with the VA, but have yet to receive a proposal from them or payment for past costs,” said Tom Janssen, a spokesman for Kiewit-Turner in an email.
— Staff writer Rachel Sapin contributed to this story
So, the VA doesn’t run benefits well (see backlog), doesn’t run actual healthcare well (see scheduling fraud, etc) and doesn’t run construction well. Anyone else see the need for a complete restructuring of what the VA “is”?
Didn’t the Army Corps of Engineers oversee all the canal reinforcements in New Orleans? The Corps of Engineers are trained for dams, bridges, waterways, bunker busting, bangalore torpedoes and other obstruction for combat. I see more government intervention and fighting. Let the civilians do the building and the Army Corps of Engineers to approve plans but not supervise. At one time the Stockton, CA VA Hospital plans were the most complete of any competing for build time and funds. We were in the Top ten of the list but now around number 19! For an area that has suffered more combat deaths and casualties, per capita than any other region in the US, this is an insult and a play of favorites b y the VA. By the time if it is built, there will be very aging Viet Nam vets, gone are the WWII and Korean vets. A plan by design by the founders of ObamaCare, death do we part has never been more plain a statement.
The Army Corps of Engineers also builds every military facility (including hospitals) for the Army and the Air Force as well as the guard and reserves. They also are hired by agencies such as the EPA, Dept of State, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, etc.
The problem isn’t the VA engineers. The problem is that the VA directors aren’t listening to the VA Engineers and the VA Engineers aren’t given enough authority to tell the hospital directors No. It’s called project creep and the problem is medical personnel trying to influence construction planning and scheduling. Everyone has an opinion on how to do it better and the problem is the ones who have the expertise aren’t given authority. People like Coffman just undermine their authority more.