Senate moves to take away VA construction authority


WASHINGTON — Following the revelation of massive problems at the VA hospital project in Aurora, the U.S. Senate on Thursday agreed to legislation that would prohibit the agency from managing construction projects that cost more than $100 million.

Instead, the Army Corps of Engineers would be put in charge of those projects as part of a measure co-sponsored by Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.

"Through their incompetence, delays, and complete lack of accountability, the VA has proven that it is unfit to manage its own major construction," said Gardner, a Republican, in a statement.

"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."

The Bennet-Gardner amendment was added to a broader defense bill and — given Congress' current distrust of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — it's likely that the VA legislation ultimately will become law in some form.  Legislators have been outraged by cost overruns at the Aurora facility, which skyrocketed to an estimated $1.73 billion this year.  A major cause of the price hike is widespread VA mismanagement of the project. The agency is conducting an investigation to examine what went wrong.

"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," said Bennet of the bill.

"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."

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