Cost overruns on major VA healthcare projects such as this one in Aurora, CO have led to calls for the Army Corps of Engineers to take over responsibility.
Is the Veterans Administration preparing to shift major construction projects to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers? That’s a possibility, according to Congressional testimony last week from the VA’s Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson.
Tom Ichniowski, Washington Bureau Chief at Engineering News-Record, has the full report here. On January 21, Gibson told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that he’s “perfectly willing” to examine shifting major hospital construction to the Corps. Specifically he stated:
All I’m after is what’s best for veterans, what’s the right thing for taxpayers. If that means turning over major hospital construction to the Corps of Engineers, I think that’s fine, but that’s a big decision. Let’s make it an informed decision.
A transfer of VA construction responsibility to the Corps of Engineers offers benefits to the VA, the Nation and the U.S. taxpayer. Key among these is that the Corps of Engineers maintains a Medical Facilities Mandatory Center of Expertise and Standardization that focuses on medical facility design, construction, evolving technology and medical service advances.
This knowledge is important because the design and construction of large medical facilities are notorious for cost overruns and delays. These projects typically span several years and medical technology evolves during that time. Medical services and equipment that is state-of-the-art during design is outdated or no longer available later in the project life cycle when it is finally time for purchases.
The Corps of Engineers has the institutional knowledge to manage implementation of technological and medical advances thereby reducing delays and cost overruns.
Still, there are two challenges that officials must consider. First, the VA’s and Corps’ respective roles and responsibilities would need to be defined in a way that holds the VA responsible for project planning and programming and the Corps responsible for the design and construction based on the VA’s Congressionally legislated plan and program.
Second, since the combined DoD and VA medical facility construction program represents a significant amount of medical facility construction, officials must determine how the derived knowledge and expertise will be leveraged to improve other medical facility planning, design and construction.
Finally, an outsourcing of construction to the Corps of Engineers would hardly be a new concept. The Corps has provided support to the VA for years, designing and constructing smaller construction projects throughout the US. Moreover, the Corps has constructed numerous large hospital projects for the Defense Department, many as large as $1 billion.
Joe Tyler Senior Advisor
From 2006-09, Joe was Deputy and Director, Military Programs for the Army Corps of Engineers. He was the highest-ranking civilian (SES-2) in the USACE Military Mission Area and led reforms that improved quality, efficiency and productivity.