VA Fails to Fully Comply with Subpoena

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Washington, DC, September 29, 2016 | comments
Washington, DC -- Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to fully comply with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) subpoena which required the VA to turn over thousands of pages of supporting documentation from the VA’s Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) report detailing the causes of Aurora, Colorado VA hospital construction project’s delays and cost overruns.
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 Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (CO-06), Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) failed to fully comply with the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) subpoena which required the VA to turn over thousands of pages of supporting documentation from the VA’s Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) report detailing the causes of Aurora, Colorado VA hospital construction project’s delays and cost overruns.

“Over $1 billion in taxpayer money has been wasted on a single construction project,” Coffman said. “The VA’s attempt to slow walk the AIB’s release is a completely illegal and is deeply offensive to both our taxpayers, who are footing the bill, and our veterans, who do not have access to a hospital that was supposed to be completed years ago.”

Shortly after 5:30 PM ET on September 28, 2016, more than 8 hours after the official subpoena deadline, the VA delivered a CD containing only 18 out of 71 AIB exhibits, unilaterally citing in a letter to HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) that it “will provide the remaining transcripts, exhibits, and associated documents to the Committee on a rolling basis.”

“They are slow-walking an internal investigation that they finished long ago. VA wants to make sure that anything damaging isn’t released until after the election.  Secretary McDonald consistently put political partisanship ahead of our veterans and, given his own Army service, he should be ashamed of his organization’s conduct,” said Coffman, a Marine Corps combat veteran.

The subpoena, which HVAC approved and issued by voice vote on September 7, 2016, legally requires the VA to hand over all of the AIB’s supporting documentation to HVAC. The deadline to comply with the subpoena was September 28, 2016 at 9:00 AM ET.

The materials VA delivered were improperly watermarked and redacted, further failing to comply to with the subpoena HVAC issued three weeks ago.

Failure to comply with a Congressional subpoena could result in federal court proceedings to enforce compliance or even a vote to hold the Secretary in contempt of Congress.

The VA, under Secretary McDonald, continually fails to meet our nation’s obligations to the men and women who have served this country in uniform,” Coffman continued. “Despite massive budget increases, the VA lacks any degree of transparency to let our veterans and the taxpayers know just how and why the VA is failing. Delivering a small fraction of the expected documents and claiming this somehow is transparency is just another example of his disregard for Congress, veterans, and taxpayers.”

When construction began on the Aurora VA hospital project in August 2009, the VA estimated the facility cost at just under $583 million with a February 2014 completion date.

The Aurora VA hospital project has since spiraled to cost $1.67 billion and is now estimated to be completed in early 2018.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took over the construction management of the project from the VA last year and legislation has passed that permanently strips the VA of their construction management authority to ever build another hospital again.

In March 2015, the VA appointed an Administrative Investigation Board (AIB) to conduct the requested investigation into the massive cost overruns and delays, which occurred at the site.

On October 9, 2015, Coffman along with then-Ranking Member Ann Kuster (D-NH), sent a letter formally requesting the AIB report be released no later than October 23, 2015. Secretary McDonald ignored Coffman and Kuster’s request but on December 9, 2015, Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson assured HVAC members that the VA would provide the AIB “relatively soon.”

In March of 2016, nearly a year after it was initially promised for delivery, the VA finally delivered a memorandum summarizing the VA’s AIB findings to HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), but the VA did not release the thousands of pages of supporting documentation accompanying the memorandum.

Following the memorandum’s release, Coffman expressed concern that, despite VA’s failures, no official was fired or disciplined for actions that sent the Aurora VA project into an over-budget and behind-schedule debacle. 

“Unless the VA hands over the full details of their internal investigation, it will be impossible to draw conclusions as to how the VA lost over $1 billion on one construction project,” Coffman said.

According to Coffman, adding to the urgency to see the AIB’s supporting documentation is the fact that on September 21, 2016, in a separate report, the VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG) detailed numerous instances in which VA construction executives appear to have intentionally misled Congress on cost-escalations and construction delays in completion of the Aurora VA hospital project.

After seeing this report, Coffman immediately called for criminal referrals, asking that the VA review the VAOIG report to address “whether criminal referrals to the Department of Justice for any VA officials are appropriate… If you conclude that no criminal referrals are appropriate, please clearly explain why.”

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