The investigative board tasked with diving deep into what went wrong with the vastly over-budget $1.7 billion Department of Veterans Affairs hospital construction project in suburban Denver has a lawyer on the panel and a specialist in employee relations. The only thing missing: an expert in construction.
VA’s administrative investigation board is expected to report in the next few weeks on what went wrong with a project that began with a $604 million construction budget and is $1 billion over budget, now the most expensive hospital construction in VA history.
The interviews have been conducted by VA employees: Michael Culpepper, deputy director of the Office of Accountability Review; Scott Foster, an employee relations specialist in the same office; and VA regional counsel Jeffrey Stacey.
Internal agency e-mails last week showed that the only person with construction experience has been missing. Joanna Krause, head of the medical facilities design office at the U.S. Naval Facilities Engineering Command Headquarters, is so far not taking part in the investigation.
VA has been trying to “nail down” her appointment since February, the employee wrote, but “I don’t know when we might expect approval/denial from the Navy.”
The makeup of the panel enraged and baffled Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla), chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, which is considering the $830 million request from VA to complete the hospital project.
“The fact that the investigative panel VA created to get to the root of the Denver construction disaster doesn’t include a single construction expert is absolutely indefensible and raises serious questions regarding VA’s commitment to finding out what went wrong and holding responsible parties accountable,” Miller said.
“What value will this construction investigation have if the investigators don’t know about construction?” Miller asked in a written statement.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, chaired by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), will hold a field hearing in Denver on Friday over the construction of the new medical center.
VA announced its administrative investigation board in January. That was after contractor Kiewit-Turner successfully won a lawsuit contending that the medical campus could not be built with a $604 million budget. Work has resumed under an interim contract, but it will stop again unless Congress agrees to provide more money.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) has called for an independent investigation.
“I have absolutely zero confidence in VA’s ability to investigate itself,” said Coffman. “Any investigation that takes place must lead to firings and, potentially, criminal prosecutions.”
In a statement, VA said it established the “board to look at the actions and processes that resulted in the current situation as well as the employees responsible for those actions and decisions.”
VA, it said, “is committed to determine the facts with regard to the issues surrounding the construction of the Denver replacement facility, and holding individuals accountable when appropriate.”
Me Here....I doubt since there was no expert, there is no one to fire.
A Billion Dollars could have paid for a lot of health care. But it is gone now. I am sure the VA's answer would be, "So what! It was just government money!"