Column by U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman
The Veterans Administration’s internal investigation of the Aurora VA hospital construction project is complete. But the VA continues to deny requests to release this report, which details the massive cost overruns, delays, and mismanagement that occurred.
American taxpayers and veterans are entitled to see the VA’s detailed explanation of how this project’s cost spiraled out-of-control, while falling massively behind schedule.
Nearly a year after it was initially promised, a memorandum summarizing the VA”s Administrative Investigation Board’s (AIB) findings was finally provided to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller in March, but the VA will not release to the HVAC the thousands of pages of supporting documentation.
In fact, not only has the VA refused to release the supporting documents to the HVAC, it has also marked every page of the AIB summary memorandum as “information protected from disclosure” because it “…may be protected under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 552a.”
In other words, the VA continues to hide the full report and the summary memo from public disclosure to taxpayers and veterans alike.
On March 25th, I wrote VA Secretary Robert McDonald to urge him to release the complete AIB report to all members of Congress and the American people — he refused.
The VA then claimed that it released the “thousands of pages of documentation from the AIB” to “all four VA Congressional Oversight Committees — untrue.
So I wrote Secretary McDonald again on July 7th asking him to reconsider his position, provide a complete legal explanation as to why this information is allegedly protected under the Privacy Act, and to release the summary along with the full report and all of the supporting documentation by August 31, 2016.
To date, I have not received a response from the Secretary.
The VA’s own conclusions in the summary memo essentially place all the blame on individuals who have conveniently now retired. This does not surprise me as the VA has consistently refused to hold anyone accountable for the many failures on this project, but I suspect the American people and their Congressional Representatives will draw very different conclusions if they can ever see the currently unavailable supporting documentation.
To make matters worse, VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson is on the record stating that presenting a summarized memo to the Oversight Committee was a generous act.
When asked about releasing just the summary of the AIB to the public, he responded: “I’m not going to do that. I disclosed it to the Oversight Committee because I felt like it was the right thing to do. And we normally don’t do that either.”
The right thing to do, Mr. Gibson, is to release the report to the American people and to Congress. Over a billion dollars in waste and mismanagement at the Aurora VA hospital and no one has been fired.
It appears to be business as usual at the VA. Veterans and taxpayers deserve to know what went wrong.
The failures are the Aurora VA hospital were not simply caused by an incompetent few, but were a direct consequence of the VA’s deeply flawed practices and culture. Fortunately, I successfully pushed the idea of prohibiting the VA from ever managing another major construction project again. Now that this has become law, the VA is out of the hospital construction business and that is a victory for both our veterans and for our taxpayers.
If the VA continues to refuse to release the AIB and its supporting documents as I have requested, I will ask the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to vote on issuing a subpoena for the full AIB report when Congress reconvenes in September.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman represents the 6th Congressional District.