- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2014

Veterans Affairs officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District have squandered millions of dollars in taxpayer money by mismanaging construction contracts, according to internal department records that showed some of the contracts were delayed so long that money was paid out and the contracts expired before any work was even done.

In one case, a delay caused by a 2,800-gallon underground fuel tank found at a construction site lingered unresolved for two years, allowing the contractor to collect a $1.4 million “delay claim” because the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) never issued a stop-work order, according to staff reports outlined in a consultant’s report.

In another case, a contractor hired on a construction job at a VHA dental clinic received $99,000 because of delays in the security-clearance process. Yet another contractor, which was hired to renovate patient wards, later sought more than $1 million in delay claims on an $8 million contract, according to the consultants hired by the VA.

The documents, reviewed by The Washington Times, don’t indicate the locations of the job sites, but records do make clear the projects were just some of the troubling reports coming from staff at the VHA’s construction contracting operation located in Perry Point, Maryland and Washington.

The offices handle purchasing for dozens of VA clinics and medical centers in Washington, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

A VA spokesman, Randy Noller, said officials had nothing to add beyond what’s in the consultants’ report, which was circulated to department officials last summer. The Times obtained a copy of the report this week through a Freedom of Information Act request.

SEE ALSO: Lawmakers slam VA for lack of firings, accountability in wait-time scandal

The 88-page report by the Jefferson Consulting Group singled out the Perry Point office’s construction team as “operating in a constant crisis mode.”

The consultants discovered an undated, unsigned list of expired purchase orders totaling $38.8 million with a handwritten note at the bottom of the page that read: “All contracts were not monitored and work was not started and contracts have expired and need to be extended.” The note said some contract employees were even working off of expired contracts.

“There do not appear to be adequate processes in place for monitoring whether construction contracts issued out of Washington, D.C., meet cost, schedule, performance and quality requirements,” the consultants told VA officials.

Scott A. Sands, the top regional contracting official for VHA in the region, did not respond to email messages on Thursday, and his voice mail was not accepting messages.

The VA’s construction woes have been a frequent target for Congress. In September, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, said the agency has a “horrible track record” in managing major construction projects.

“VA construction projects are routinely completed years late and millions over budget, while VA construction officials escape accountability at every turn,” Mr. Miller said in a statement back in September, when the House passed a bill to include the Army Corps of Engineers on major VA facility projects.

At the time of the consultants’ review, the VA’s Washington-based construction operations leadership included an acting team manager new to the VA stationed at Perry Point and a team leader with no construction experience.

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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