Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald on Wednesday pushed back against congressional criticism over an unfinished, delayed and overly expensive veterans hospital near Denver, Colorado, saying that lawmakers have failed to act on reasonable plans to save the project.
Now, he said, the entire project will be shut down this weekend unless Congress acts.
"I have provided multiple proposals to the Congressional authorizing committee as to how we can complete this campus for veterans. The options were rejected and the result has been inaction," McDonald said in a statement released Wednesday night.
"But the truth of the matter is without immediate Congressional action prior to returning home for the Memorial Day holiday recess, construction on the Denver Replacement Medical Center in Aurora will shut down Sunday, grinding to a halt as [the primary contractor] demobilizes its team of contractors and sub-contractors," McDonald said.
Cost overruns at the Aurora facility have totaled about $1 billion and the project is years behind schedule. Original cost estimates put the facility at about $328 million.
Kewit-Turner, the contractor overseeing the project, halted work briefly in December after a federal appeals court said the VA breached its agreement by insisting on a design that could not be built under the terms and cost of the original contract.
But work resumed after the VA agreed to bring on the Army Corps of Engineers as project advisers.
The VA has been pressing Congress to increase the $800 million already appropriated to finish the hospital by an additional $200 million, and also permit VA to transfer to the construction project some $700 million appropriated for the Choice Act.
But lawmakers have been reluctant to let VA dig into the money for the Choice Act funding, a multi-year program to provide veterans with health care at non-VA facilities, to complete the Aurora project.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, told VA officials testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee only last week that such a plan "is a non-starter … it's just unacceptable."
McDonald on Wednesday made no excuses for the disaster that the Aurora project represents.
"The delays and costs overruns that have plagued the Denver Replacement Medical Center campus are inexcusable - on that, we all agree," he said.
But while he has offered a way forward, Congress has rejected it and offered no solution of its own, he said.
"Our Veterans deserve better than that," he said.
-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.