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Opening Statement of Honorable Jeff Miller, Chairman, Committee on Veterans' Affairs

 

Good morning, and welcome to today’s Full Committee hearing “From the Ground Up: Assessing Ongoing Delays in VA Major Construction.”

Before we begin, I would like to ask unanimous consent for our colleagues from Florida, John Mica, Sandy Adams, and Daniel Webster to sit at the dais and participate in today’s proceedings. 

I would also like to ask unanimous consent that a statement from charles boustany, our colleague from louisiana, be entered into the record.

Hearing no objection, so ordered. 

Thank you all for joining us.

We are here this morning to examine the status of on-going Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) major construction projects and leases and to assess management and oversight issues which have led to significant setbacks in recent projects.

The VA’s FY 2013 Budget Submission shows that four major medical facility projects in Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Orlando have experienced significant cost increases and schedule delays from the original authorization. 

Although, all of these projects were authorized between fiscal years 2004 and 2006, none are open for business today.  

Additionally, there are 55 major medical facility leases that have been authorized in recent years with a total start-up cost of $442 million. 

However, only five of those facilities are now open.  Thirty-eight are behind schedule, with fourteen of these falling three or more years behind their intended target.

As the VA health care system has grown, it appears that we have come to a point in VA’s major construction program where the administrative structure is an obstacle that is not effectively supporting the mission. 

As a result, our veterans are the ones who are left without services and our taxpayers are the ones left holding the check.

A case in point, on October 24, 2008, VA broke ground to build a new medical center in Orlando, Florida with a scheduled completion date of October 12, 2012.

Yet, this past December, I learned of serious and significant issues surrounding the construction of this new facility to better care for our veterans.  It was not the VA, but the contractor who came to me out of frustration.

When VA confirmed a few days later that the project was indeed going to be delayed, I quickly scheduled a visit to Orlando to see the situation for myself.

Needless to say, what I saw was a startling and unacceptable disconnect between what VA Central Office was telling me about the extent of the delay and the day-to-day reality on the ground. 

Clearly, there are problems with the design, procurement of specific medical equipment, change orders and how they all fit together. 

The issue of pointing fingers has to stop. 

We cannot and must not allow the problems in Orlando, or elsewhere, to persist.

It is vital that reputable, long-standing companies want to work with VA on these significant flagship projects that are so important to the delivery of care.

Today’s plans and projects are tomorrow’s hospitals and clinics, and - whether it is by building the new, renovating the old, or leasing the existing – our allegiance must always be to the veterans who rely on VA to provide the benefits and services they need to lead healthy, productive lives.