While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' internal watchdog issued more than 1,500 reports between 2010 and 2014, not one focused on the agency's troubled hospital project in Aurora, Colorado the Denver Post reported Friday.
Federal lawmakers asked the VA Office of Inspector General to look at it on at least two occasions but were refused. According to office officials and Congressional correspondence, the office didn't take action because of a legal battle between the prime contractor, Kiewit-Turner, and the VA.
The lack of oversight by the VA Office of Inspector General follows years of warnings about rising costs at the project, which is now expected to cost $1.73 billion. That's nearly triple the estimate VA gave last year. Congress first noticed problems in 2006 and the Government Accountability Office warned of trouble as early as 2009.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, requested an investigation by the office in August 2013 and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet also asked for one in 2014.
"A report from that office could have put the kind of pressure we needed on the VA to start listening to the rest of the world about the problems with the project," Bennet said in a statement.
Bennet faulted the VA for pursuing a "winner-take-all legal strategy" in its fight with Kiewit-Turner, which he said "caused longer delays while the overruns increased, costing taxpayers more money."
However, two members of the Association of Inspectors General — Louisiana Inspector General Stephen Street and Cook County, Illinois Inspector General Patrick Blanchard — said VA Office of Inspector General's decision to wait until the legal dispute was resolved is not unusual.
Street said one concern would be wasting time by getting dragged into legal proceedings and having the office's records subpoenaed. Still, he said there is no "cookie-cutter approach."
Since the dispute between the VA and Kiewit-Turner was settled in December, an audit is now in the "planning stage", OIG spokeswoman Joanne Moffet said. But lawmakers and critics say it's too little, too late.