Via the internet.
The Veterans Affairs Department has no plans to punish any other employees over massive cost overruns at a VA medical center under construction outside Denver, the agency said Tuesday. The executives who made the decisions that caused the price to swell to $1.7 billion have already left the department, the VA said in announcing the long-awaited results of an internal review. The VA said last year that three other executives were transferred or demoted.
A separate investigation by the VA’s inspector general is still underway. The decision angered members of Congress who have demanded for months that the executives responsible be fired.
“There’s going to be a billion dollars wasted on this hospital that could have gone to veterans’ health care,” said GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, whose district includes the site. The facility’s final cost will be nearly three times the amount estimated in 2014. It’s expected to be finished in January 2018.
When Congress reluctantly approved additional spending in September to complete the hospital, it stripped the VA of the authority to manage large construction projects in the future and turned it over to the Army Corps of Engineers.
VA officials have repeatedly said federal personnel rules controlled what action they could take against executives. They also said they had no legal authority to stop employees from retiring amid the internal review. Coffman said the department should have at least tried.
“I think they use that system, the personnel system, to hide behind when it’s convenient to do so,” he said.
Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and Cory Gardner, a Republican, also condemned the decision. Bennet called it an abdication of responsibility.
“It’s incomprehensible that the VA concluded no further personnel action was necessary to hold these individuals accountable,” he said.
Gardner said the VA’s decision makes it appear that “federal employment comes with a get-out-of-jail-free card.”
The 184-bed medical center in Aurora will replace an old, overcrowded hospital in Denver. The new facility is a collection of a dozen large buildings connected by a long, soaring, glass-walled corridor. It is near the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Chairman Miller released the below statement following VA’s announcement that no employees will be seriously disciplined for the biggest construction failure in VA history as well as a separate $400,000 relocation scandal.“Nearly every day we are reminded that accountability at the Department of Veterans Affairs is almost non-existent. Today’s announcement from VA that no one will be seriously disciplined for wasting more than $1 billion on a failed construction project and that a few executives might receive a weak slap on the wrist or a temporary written warning for a relocation scandal that cost taxpayers more than $400,000 is more proof of this sad fact. One thing is clear: this dysfunctional status quo will never change until we eliminate arcane civil service rules that put the job security of VA bureaucrats ahead of the veterans they are charged with serving. The House acted to do just that last summer with passage of the VA Accountability Act, which would give the VA secretary the authority to swiftly fire or demote any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct while protecting whistleblowers and limiting the agency’s ability to place misbehaving employees on paid leave. If the Senate doesn’t follow suit with similar legislation to do the same thing, it is illogical to think VA’s many problems will ever be fixed.” – Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), an original cosponsor of the Women Airforce Service Pilot Arlington Inurnment Restoration Act (H.R. 4336), released the following statement after the legislation passed unanimously in the House today:
“Today we honored the more than 1,100 women who voluntarily served our nation in a time of great need during WWII. The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) flew 60 million miles in 78 different types of aircraft, including the B-26 and B-29 bombers, and flew missions like ferrying airplanes, training combat pilots, and towing airborne targets to free up their male counterparts for combat. These women blazed the trail for women in uniform, and it’s time we give them the honor they have earned and deserve—to lay in final rest among so many of our nation’s great heroes at Arlington Cemetery. Today’s unanimous passage of H.R. 4336 is progress, and I look forward to continuing to work to get this legislation signed in to law.”
In 1977, Congress passed legislation retroactively granting active duty status to Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) for the purposes of all laws administered by the VA, and in 2009, Congress awarded the WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal. Arlington National Cemetery approved in 2002 active duty designees, including WASP pilots, for military honors and inurrments. However, in March 2015, then-Secretary of the Army John McHugh reversed this decision. H.R. 4336, introduced by Rep. Martha McSally (AZ-02) earlier this year, would restore the rights of the WASPs to have their ashes inurned at Arlington National Cemetery.