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Amendment to Federal Law Strips VA of Oversight Following Abysmal Aurora Facility Construction

Aurora, unfinished.

Aurora, unfinished.

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The U.S. Senate has tentatively approved a measure which would prohibit the Veterans Administration (VA) from managing construction projects that carry a price tag of more than $100 million, instead placing the responsibility in the hands of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  The move came as part of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 and was co-sponsored by Colorado Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.  As we have reported in the past, mismanagement of the new VA facility in Aurora, CO has led to severe cost overruns and delays. Building Trades unions have long called for a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) in Aurora and other VA construction sites. The Aurora project will now cost an estimated $1.73 billion upon completion.

Gardner said in a statement:

“Through their incompetence, delays, and complete lack of accountability, the VA has proven that it is unfit to manage its own major construction.  It’s time to get the VA out of the construction business and get the responsibility for completing these critical projects into the hands of more competent agencies.”

Senator Bennet, a Democrat, released a statement of his own:

“This is a major reform to the VA’s construction management system – one that we hope will save taxpayer dollars and help more efficiently deliver the quality medical facilities our veterans have earned and deserve.  It is an important step toward accountability that will help us put in place a plan to complete the medical facility in Aurora for veterans in Colorado and across the Rocky Mountain region.”

PLAs can help prevent disastrous budget overruns by enforcing training standards and preventing work stoppages.  The project recently Congress to avoid a work stoppage. The legislature stepped in and agreed to a short-term deal which raised the project’s spending cap by $150 million, allowing construction to continue until at least September.  The VA has requested another $625 million to complete the project, which Congress has been unwilling to provide given the grave mismanagement thus far.  While the Bennet-Gardner amendment will not necessarily clean up the mess, it could prevent a similar situation in the future.

In a statement Mike Coffman, the Congressman who represents Aurora, praised the amendment:

“As I’ve long said, the VA is not a construction entity, and their terrible track record in managing major construction projects is proof that they should not be in the business.  I am very happy to see the U.S. Senate move legislation to get the VA out of managing major construction projects and will work to see this type of reform become law.”  

Earlier this year, Coffman introduced similar legislation which would have transferred authority of construction projects valued at more than $10 million from the VA to the Army Corps of Engineers.


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