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House to probe the VA's blameless, unexplained, $1.4 billion dollar construction screwup

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 10: House Armed Services Committe member Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) (C) argues with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (not pictured) with fellow committee members Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) (L) and Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) during a committe hearing about Syria on Capitol Hill September 10, 2013 in Washington, DC. Congress may have avoided a difficult vote this week after Kerry suggested that the United States would possibly halt plans for a military strike against Syria if that country turned over its chemical weapons to the international community. Credit: Getty Images

The House Veterans Affairs Committee will hold an investigatory hearing later this month to examine how a new VA medical center in Denver that was supposed to cost $328 million ended up costing $1.7 billion.

The huge cost overrun has been a slow-motion disaster for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which watched as the cost of the project went up and up over the last few years, but did nothing but ask Congress for more money along the way. The project was supposed to be finished more than a year ago, but still isn't.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 12: House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) presides over a hearing about the bureacracy in veterans health care in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill June 12, 2014 in Washington, DC. The committee is reviewing all aspects of veterans care after it was discovered that Veterans Health Administration officials manipulated medical waiting lists and delayed care for thousands of veterans. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) will examine a $1.4 billion construction gaffe at the VA later this month. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

So far, the VA hasn't don't much to explain why the project will cost $1.4 billion more than it first estimated. Members of the committee from both parties have asked for an explanation, but according to the committee, "VA hasn't responded to the request."

The leader of the VA's Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, Glenn Haggstrom, resigned last month, but even this has been met with criticism from Congress because he wasn't fired, and was allowed to leave with full retirement benefits. "What's most disappointing about this situation, however, is that Haggstrom left on his own terms – with a lifetime pension – even though any reasonable person would conclude that he should have been fired years ago," committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said.

A Fox News affiliate in Denver reported this week that Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson seemed to defend Haggstrom's right to retire with benefits.

"I think we all need to remember the law allows federal employees to retire, when they are eligible to retire," he said, according to KDVR. Gibson also said he can't take any action against an employee "without evidence that will not stand in an appeal."

The committee has said the VA is also botching construction projects all over the country.

"GAO documented in 2013 how construction projects in Denver and other locations, including Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla., have been plagued by years long delays and cost overruns totaling nearly $1.5 billion," the committee said. "VA hasn't held a single senior construction executive accountable for any of these failures."

One last thing…
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