A Department of Veterans Affairs executive is “stepping down” after reports that he received nearly $64,000 in bonuses despite overseeing $2 billion in cost overruns at four troubled VA hospital projects, including one in Aurora, Colo., that is now the most expensive hospital in the VA’s history.
Haggstrom “retired” from federal service in the “midst of an investigation, initiated by VA, into delays and cost overruns associated with the design and construction of the medical center in Aurora,” the statement said. “Haggstrom had recently been relieved of any decision-making,” the statement said.
The VA called the situation with its Aurora hospital “unacceptable.” But Haggstrom is still entitled by law to apply for federal retirement benefits, officials there said.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the project a “disaster,” and said he was angered that Haggstrom will receive a pension.
“What’s most disappointing about this situation, however, is that Haggstrom left on his own terms – with a lifetime pension – even though any reasonable person would conclude that he should have been fired years ago,” Miller said. “VA’s entire construction program is a disaster and has been for years. Every single member of VA’s top leadership is fully aware of the department’s construction problems, yet none made any attempt to fire Haggstrom – a fact that speaks volumes about the department’s commitment to accountability.”
He also said that Haggstrom is not the only VA employee “responsible for the department’s construction failures. More housecleaning will surely be needed if the department is to ever get its construction affairs in order.”
The VA’s ability to swiftly fire employees for wrongdoing has been a controversial issue, and VA officials say they can’t fire as quickly as they would like. Congress members say that’s not true and the VA should be more committed to ending incompetence and wrongdoing.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) said Haggstrom “should have been fired years ago.”
“And his ill-gotten bonuses should be rescinded,” said Coffman, who has been pushing for reform. “Everyone knew back in April 2013 that VA executives were incompetently managing this project. This personnel move is years late and billions of dollars in cost overruns short.”
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) published findings in 2013 that found that the VA was on average $336 million over budget and 35 months behind schedule.
The Aurora VA hospital was recently found to be more than $1 billion over budget by itself. And it is expected to cost what Congress members are calling a “shocking” $1.73 billion, more than five times its original $328 million estimate, according to fresh estimates from VA officials.