As the Denver Post’s Electra Draper reports, the recent disclosure by the Veterans Administration that the trouble-plagued new VA hospital in Aurora would cost much more than its original estimate to complete, now at a price tag of over $1.7 billion, is giving Rep. Mike Coffman fresh ammunition in his war of words with the Obama administration in general and the VA in particular:
A Veterans Affairs official told members of Congress overseeing construction of the hospital in Aurora, now estimated to cost $1.73 billion, that the department ignored the warnings of its contractors and listened instead to its designers.
“The VA owns this. We own this fiasco,” said Dennis Milsten, VA director of the Office of Construction and Facilities. But others were involved, he said, in creating runaway costs at a construction project begun more than a decade ago…
Milsten told House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee that the department’s processes of due diligence broke down. Subcommittee chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, said a better explanation would be “pure incompetence.”
After largely prevailing in his chest-thumping match with VA Secretary Robert McDonald, Coffman has benefitted from considerable positive press from his “oversight” (consisting mostly of irate press statements) of the unfolding cost overrun problems at the new Aurora VA hospital. But let’s be clear: both Colorado U.S. Senators, and more or less the entire House delegation is involved at some level in resolving this issue. We don’t doubt his sincerity, but Coffman can’t pretend that he’s the only one with any responsibility or motivation for fixing the problem.
And here’s the other part of the story that no one has picked up on, at least not yet: Coffman has served on the Veterans Affairs Committee since 2009, and he is chairman of House Veterans Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Despite this, he doesn’t seem to have cared much about the longstanding troubles with the Aurora VA hospital until well after the area was redistricted into CD-6. The Obama administration’s oversight is justifiably in question now, but isn’t Coffman also on the hook for his oversight responsibilities? At least to some extent?
The Subcommittee provides oversight on programs and operations of the Department of Veterans Affairs, as well as those of other federal agencies that pertain to veterans. In carrying out its responsibilities, the Subcommittee conducts hearings, site visits, and investigations nationwide.
It seems to us that once all the chest-thumping concludes, that will be a question worth asking along with rightful questions for the VA. Everyone agrees that the present situation is not acceptable, but there’s a point at which the self-serving bombast looks a little like protesting one’s own guilt.
Not to mention that this hospital hasn’t even exceeded the price of one B-2 bomber yet. So perhaps we should keep an admittedly bad situation…in perspective.