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.
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."