AURORA | Federal prosecutors should investigate whether a former Veterans Affairs Department executive committed perjury when he testified about the cost of a new Aurora VA hospital, which is more than $1 billion over budget, members of Congress said.
Florida Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., said Wednesday the Justice Department should investigate Glenn Haggstrom’s statements to Congress in 2013 and 2014.
The VA’s internal watchdog released a report Wednesday saying Haggstrom knew the project was veering toward huge cost overruns but didn’t tell lawmakers that.
Haggstrom didn’t immediately return a telephone message seeking comment. He was the department’s top official in charge of construction projects nationwide. He retired in 2015.
The VA has said Haggstrom left one day after he was interviewed under oath about the hospital as part of a separate internal investigation. The hospital, now under construction in suburban Aurora, is expected to cost around $1.7 billion, nearly triple the 2014 estimate.
Miller said he will ask the Justice Department to look into perjury charges against Haggstrom and others.
“To this day, the department’s handling of the replacement Denver VA medical center continues to be a case study in government waste, incompetence and secrecy,” he said.
Coffman had asked the inspector general to consider recommending a criminal investigation if warranted, but the report didn’t address that. He said he will ask the inspector general again to consider recommending a criminal inquiry.
“I’m trying to get to the bottom of this. And I think quite frankly the Veterans Affairs (Department) doesn’t seem to care,” he said.
Coffman pushed that in a press release Wednesday, saying the issue now goes beyond just being accountable.
“A less generous assessment is that Haggstrom intentionally misled Congress – he lied. As the report details, Haggstrom was a party to extensive internal communications concerning the likely need for significant additional funding for the project.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., another member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, also called on the inspector general to turn the matter over to the Justice Department.
Haggstrom twice testified that the hospital would not require more money, “and he knew that wasn’t true,” Rice said.
The inspector general’s report said gross 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.
The report repeated some conclusions from earlier investigations but is the most scathing account of the project to date.
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 inspector general accused the VA of “gross mismanagement” for assigning far too few engineers and project managers.
Sloan Gibson, deputy secretary of veterans affairs, has said that everyone involved in the cost overruns has either retired or was transferred or demoted. No one has been fired or criminally charged.
Gibson said the department has taken responsibility for the problems and has made changes.
The 184-bed facility 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.
Two weeks ago, Miller’s committee subpoenaed documents on a separate internal VA investigation into the cost overruns. The department has not said whether it will comply or fight the subpoena.
The VA has said making the documents public could have a chilling effect on future internal investigations.