Four years after the General Accountability Office recommended changes to the Department of Veterans Affairs that would reduce potential cost increases and schedule delays to major construction projects, there is still some question about how far the VA has come in adopting them.
During a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, the testimony of the VA's chief of acquisitions and construction saying the GAO's 2009 recommendations were implemented was then contradicted by the agency's inspector general's office.
"Based on our reviews, we would think that while they might be responding [to the recommendations], the implementation has not been sufficient," said Linda Halliday, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations.
The GAO in 2009, at the request of Congress, reviewed three VA construction projects to determine where improvements could be made to prevent significant cost overruns and schedule delays. The agency recommended the VA require the use of an integrated master schedule for all major construction projects and, when appropriate, also conduct a schedule risk analysis based on the project's cost, schedule, complexity and other factors.
The analysis would assess the largest risks to the project, a plan for mitigating them, and an estimate of when the project will be finished if the risks are not mitigated, the December 2009 report stated.
Halliday made her comment in response to a question by Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. Miller was skeptical of testimony from Glenn Haggstrom, principal executive director of the VA's office of acquisition, logistics and construction, that the department had adopted the GAO recommendations.
"Mr. Chairman, to the best of my knowledge we have implemented the recommendations from the GAO report in 2009, and among them the importance of doing the risk assessment for both the cost and schedule," Haggstrom said.
Not only did the VA adopt the recommendations from December 2009 forward, but it also began applying them to projects that had begun before the report, he said.
According to Miller's office, however, construction at VA medical facilities in Las Vegas, New Orleans, Denver, Colo., and Orlando, Fla. all are behind schedule and hundreds of millions over budget. A 2012 GAO report found that on average VA construction projects were averaging delays of 35 months.
Rep. Mike Michaud, I-Maine, the ranking member on the committee, said VA is "still coming up short" after years of efforts to fix chronic problems with its construction operation.
"'Over budget and 'delayed' should not be the terms that best describe the VA's major construction projects," Michaud said after the hearing. "Unfortunately, that's the most accurate way to characterize them ... While some delays and cost overruns are completely legitimate, this hearing revealed that numerous weaknesses still exist and must be addressed."