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VA Major Construction Authorization and Expiring Authorities Extension Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I might consume.

This bill, as amended, would authorize certain Department of Veterans Affairs major medical facility projects, and it would also extend certain expiring authorities.

It encompasses VA's fiscal year for 2013, for major medical facility projects, and already tracks with the resources we have already provided to the Department for health care matters in the appropriations bill that was passed by the House with bipartisan support. It would aid in the delivery of health care to services and to servicemembers, veterans, and their families in communities all across this country.

It authorizes two major medical facility projects, the construction of a mental health building at the VA Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, in an amount not to exceed $222 million, and the construction of a spinal cord injury center at the VA Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, in an amount not to exceed $155.2 million.

Section 102 of the bill would authorize the renovation of the surgical suite and operating rooms at the Medical Center in Miami, in an amount not to exceed $41 million. I would note that this project was originally undertaken by the Department in 2007 as two separate minor construction projects.

However, in 2008, the two separate projects were combined into a single initiative without the knowledge of VA's central office, or the approval, in direct violation of established procedures. The VA officials first became aware of this issue in February of this year, and in April of this year they determined that the combined project constituted a major construction project that had moved forward without congressional authorization as required by law.

Work on the project is currently suspended, at a cost of approximately $6,000 a day. As soon as our committee became aware of the issue, we requested an in-depth briefing from VA officials to get to the bottom of the issue and to ensure that the leaders of the VA responsible for this egregious oversight were, in fact, held accountable.

It's really nothing short of unacceptable to this committee and, I would hope, to this Congress that this facility had been openly flouting VA policy and, more importantly, breaking Federal law for 4 years without consequence before somebody at VA took notice.

How many other VA projects have moved forward without regard for proper procedure, legal requirements, or congressional authorization; and how long has the central office not been paying attention?

The committee will continue to be vigorous in our oversight. But in the meantime, we cannot allow the American taxpayer or the veterans of south Florida to suffer because of a bureaucratic failing or lack of leadership.

The Department has proposed using approximately $12.1 million in prior-year major construction advance planning funds to complete the remainder of the Miami project; and I've been assured repeatedly by VA officials that the use of this money will in no way negatively impact the planning or design of any other project.

I've also been assured by the Department that once congressional authorization is received, the project can be completed in 120 days. I'm hopeful that the Department is correct in its assessment of the work that remains and that this provision will allow for the completion of this project to better serve the veterans in the Miami area.

Section 103 of this bill would authorize the appropriation of $377.2 million for VA major construction projects. Title II of this bill would extend expiring authorities for several programs within VA, including programs designed to help veterans keep their homes, gain greater access to compensation and pension examinations, better serve veterans living in the Philippines, and provide supportive services to those who are homeless.

This legislation represents a bipartisan effort; and I'd like to express my thanks to the ranking member, Mr. Filner, and Mr. Michaud for his hard work and leadership in quickly advancing this important legislation to the floor.

And before I yield, I'd like to point out that the bill before us today does not include major medical facility lease authorizations, as it normally would, due to concerns raised late last week by the Congressional Budget Office about how to properly account for the total cost of VA's lease authorization.

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure our veterans and stakeholders that I am committed to working closely with my colleagues in the Senate, the administration's Office of Management and Budget, and the Congressional Budget Office to find a way forward on those important authorizations in the very near future.

I urge all of my colleagues to join me in support of H.R. 6375, as amended.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague for helping to point out the fact that the Senate, itself, has not acted on many of the pieces of legislation that, in fact, this House has passed and sent over to it. It is a shame that, for the last 3 years, they have not taken up such good legislation.

With that, I thank my colleagues once again for their support, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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