WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Coffman this week demanded a meeting with top officials from the Veterans Affairs Department to sort out a bureaucratic boondoggle at the hospital in Aurora where cost overruns and contracting disputes have stalled the project.
The Colorado Republican chairs the House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigations, and in a three-page letter to Veterans Secretary Erik Shinseki laid out his concerns about contracting issues.
“I am committed to working with VA to ensure the construction of this hospital is done efficiently and responsibly so both the veterans and taxpayers can benefit,” Coffman said in the letter, also signed by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona Democrat and the panel’s ranking member.
“However, the completion of this project will not happen if the contractor and subcontractors are treated poorly and unfairly by an unlawful change order process,” the lawmakers said.
The medical center was originally estimated to cost $200 million with construction completed by 2008. The price tag has since grown to $800 and the hospital was not expected to open until April 2015.
But constant redesigns and mismanagement of the project have so frustrated general contractor Kiewit-Turner that it estimates the cost could top $1 billion with at least three more years of construction and the company no longer wishes to do business with the government.
Without intervention from Congress, the project could be stalled for years leaving only the VA hospital in Denver to serve the state’s 63,000 veterans.
One solution Coffman is considering, is to strip the VA of its power to manage its own construction projects and instead hire the Army Corps of Engineers to do the jobs.
“We must work to make sure any work that is being done is agreed to by the contracting officer as well as the prime and subcontractors in accordance with current law,” Coffman and Kirkpatrick said.
The Aurora hospital isn’t the only VA medical center construction project facing significant cost overruns, according to a Government Accountability Office report released in April.
Medical centers in Orlando, Las Vegas and New Orleans are having their own problems, and combined with the Colorado project, are running $1.5 billion over budget.