Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Joe Donnelly, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
Today’s hearing will explore, in detail, issues surrounding the major medical facility lease for expanding the community-based outpatient clinic in Savannah, Georgia. By closely looking at one such facility, we will also get a clear picture of how this vital program is currently operating.
Beginning with last year’s budget submission, the VA’s construction and leasing decisions are made under the VA’s Strategic Capital Investment Planning (SCIP) process. Lease projects are an important component of the VA’s effort to modernize its health care delivery system and provide greater access to our veterans. Because of its importance for the provision of quality health care, it is essential that the lease process be as quick, fair, and transparent as possible. This includes keeping Congress informed of important decisions and making sure that taxpayer dollars are spent as wisely as possible.
The VA sought congressional authorization for the Savannah, Georgia clinic expansion in its FY 2009 budget submission. This authority, for a clinic with 38,900 net usable square feet at a cost of $3.2 million, was provided in October, 2008. Sometime after this authorization, the VA expanded the project by over 45 percent, and is now seeking to lease a clinic with a maximum net usable square footage of 55,193. The VA has not notified Congress or sought additional authorization for this expansion. In addition, although this project was authorized in 2008, construction is just now going forward.
The clinic in Savannah is not the only project which the VA has expanded after seeking authorization. Projects in Atlanta, Georgia, Eugene, Oregon, Fayetteville, North Carolina, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Greenville, North Carolina are all slated to be substantially larger than authorized by Congress.
In addition to exploring how and why VA feels it has the authority to move forward on projects with a larger scope than authorized, I am hopeful that we will get a better idea as to why these projects take so many years to complete from initial authorization to the doors being opened to serve veterans.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and getting a better understanding how the lease program operates, as well as exploring possible changes to the program that may be necessary to ensure that VA and Congress are working together and that the process from identifying leasing opportunities up to the ribbon-cutting ceremonies is fair, fast, and economical.