VA: No further staff punishment for overruns

Posted at 9:09 AM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 11:09:31-04

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 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 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.