Congressional consternation with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ handling of large construction projects has been stewing for some time, and 2015 appears to be the year lawmakers intend to put their feet down.
The most noticeable place this can be seen so far is in the House’s fiscal 2016 Military Construction-VA appropriations bill, which flatlines the VA’s major construction budget at $562 million, equal to the current year level. The agency had requested more than double that for major construction projects, but Military Construction-VA Subcommittee Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., cited the Denver project and other instances of cost overruns and delays as ample reason for not giving the VA more money.
“Denver’s not the only problem we have, but that’s the most egregious,” Dent said. “And I hear regularly from our Colorado colleagues. I can assure you that.”
The flat major construction budget was part of a litany of complaints Democrats had about the legislation, which passed the House in April, 255-163. Between major and minor construction, the bill totaled $968 million. The Senate Military Construction-VA Subcommittee, meanwhile, approved a bill that would provide $1.4 billion for a combination of major and minor construction projects, closer to VA’s construction request.
The House Appropriations bill also would prohibit bonuses for employees of the VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities Management in Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans and Orlando, Fla. — all sites of over-budget medical construction projects.