DENVER — A bipartisan group of lawmakers formally asked the U.S. Justice Department Thursday to investigate whether Veterans Affairs Department executives lied to Congress to conceal massive cost overruns at a Denver-area hospital.
Twelve Republicans and nine Democrats on the House Veterans Affairs Committee made the request in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“It is an absolute fact that numerous VA officials repeatedly misled Congress regarding cost overruns related to the replacement Denver VA medical center,” committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, said as he announced the request.
The letter asks for an investigation into statements by Glenn Haggstrom, formerly the department’s top official in charge of construction projects, and Stella Fiotes, director of the VA’s Office of Construction and Facilities Management.
No one answered a call to Haggstrom’s home Thursday. Fiotes didn’t immediately return a phone message.
VA officials declined to comment on the lawmakers’ letter. Officials at the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The letter cites statements by Haggstrom and Fiotes during committee hearings in 2013 and 2014. They told the committee that no cost overruns were expected and that the project would be finished at or near its budget of about $604 million, according to transcribed excerpts from the committee.
The hospital is now expected to cost around $1.7 billion.
The 184-bed facility in suburban Aurora is about 70 percent complete, and construction is expected to be done in January 2018. It will replace an aging, overcrowded facility still in use in Denver.
The request for a perjury investigation came one day after the VA’s inspector general, an internal watchdog, released a report saying Haggstrom knew the project was veering toward huge cost overruns but didn’t tell Congress about the development.
“I believe the department and its various congressional witnesses knowingly painted an inaccurate picture of the Aurora project in its representations to Congress in an effort to avoid criticism, embarrassment, and ultimately, accountability,” Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, said in a separate letter to the inspector general’s office.
Haggstrom retired in 2015, one day after he was questioned by VA officials about what went wrong, department officials have said.
The inspector general’s report said mismanagement, delays and lax oversight by the VA added hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of the hospital and delayed it by years.
It accused senior VA leaders of making poor business decisions, allowing architects to include lavish and unnecessary design features and delaying decisions on construction changes by up to three years.
The department conducted a separate internal investigation of the hospital debacle, but it has refused to make the results public. The Veterans Affairs Committee issued a subpoena two weeks ago demanding the VA turn over documents from that investigation by Sept. 28.
The lawmakers asked Lynch not to start any perjury investigation until after that deadline.