By David VergunJanuary 26, 2015
WASHINGTON (Jan. 26, 2015) -- When it comes to waterway and storm mitigation projects, the United States turns to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, or USACE, for assistance.
Perhaps less visible has been the Corps' involvement in a number of other construction activities, including expansion and modernization of hospitals and clinics operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, and the Army.
"The Corps has significant construction management capabilities and experience delivering medical facilities for our Service members and veterans," Lloyd C. Caldwell, director of military programs for USACE, told lawmakers during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Jan. 21.
Before 2007, Corps' support to VA projects was below $2 million a year, Caldwell stated in written testimony. That year, construction picked up, with $7 million spent and the following year in 2008, it doubled to $14 million.
The amount of work quickly picked up, and by 2011, the amount was $377 million. Last year's project costs declined to $156 million, but was still substantially above what it was before 2007.
"As execution funds have increased over the years, so has the collaborative relationship between the Corps and the VA," Caldwell said, adding that in recent years, the Corps has managed work at 74 VA facilities around the country.
Although there has been an uptake in work with the VA in recent years, Caldwell noted that it was small in comparison to major construction projects in the 1950s "when we supported the VA's post-World War II hospital construction program."
A recent project worthy of note, he said, is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Mental Health Research Addition at the Charleston, South Carolina, VA Medical Center, completed last year. The project provided a one-story, 16,000-square-foot building at a cost of $8.2 million.
The close working relationship with the VA is much more than bringing a hammer, nails and an arc welder to a job site.
"Our project management business process brings together a range of diverse professionals and activities required of a successful project, which includes our design, construction, acquisition and project management professionals," he said.
In some ways, the Corps tackles a VA project like a combatant commander would a battle plan.
"Success across the normal project cycle depends on early involvement of all team members to understand the overall project objectives and to plan the approach to execute the project from design through construction, Caldwell said.
All of the above depends on team members working "collaboratively," he emphasized.
The VA has an equally important role in construction planning, he said. "It's the VA's responsibility to determine programming requirements and prepare budget requests to meet the medical needs of our veterans and families," Caldwell said.
Designing VA treatment facilities is a lot more complex than for other building construction projects. "Medical equipment requirements may be extensive," he said. Also, "training is a vital component in maintaining professional standards and keeping up to date on current practices."
The Corps provides specialized technical training "across a broad range of subjects, providing continuous learning, essential to maintaining the highest levels of expertise in engineering and construction," he added.
Authority for the Corps to assist the VA with construction is derived from the Economy Act (31 U.S. Code, 1535b).
The Corps has delivered, or is in the process of designing and constructing a full range of medical facilities for the Army and the other services as well as the VA, Caldwell informed the lawmakers. These include "very large hospitals valued near $1 billion that are capable of delivering world-class medical services for the armed forces and their families."
- A new hospital at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, completed in 2011 at a cost of $1.03 billion;
- A hospital addition at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, completed in 2011 at a cost of $802 million;
- A new hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia, completed in 2014 at a cost of $475 million;
- A hospital under construction at Fort Riley, Kansas, with an authorization for $404 million with a completion date slated for this year;
- A hospital under construction at Fort Bliss, Texas, with an authorization for $966 million with completion set for 2016;
- A hospital under construction at Rhine Ordnance Barracks, Germany, with an authorization of $990 million, expected to open in 2022.
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