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The VA’s $388,000 Parking Spaces

Monday April 3rd, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:29am PDT   •  

32307291 - look down empty parking spot with vegetation and shrubbery from above Six years ago, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Louis A. Johnson Medical Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia had a shortage of over 600 parking spaces, so federal officials began planning to put in a new parking garage at the facility. Six years later, all the VA had to show for all their planning over that time to address the facility’s parking shortage were plans to spend $9.7 million to build a parking garage that would provide just 25 new parking spaces.

The good news is that the millions of dollars that the VA might have spent on such a small parking lot were never spent. Outside auditors were successful in pulling the plug on the VA’s overly expensive parking lot project before the VA could spend what works out to be $388,000 per parking space to build the parking lot it planned back in March 2016.

The bad news is that the VA facility’s officials are resisting accountability for the multiple failures that allowed what would have been an enormously wasteful project to progress so far, which means that the bureaucratic culture that allowed the fiasco to advance as far as it did is not capable of avoiding the generation of even more wasteful projects with multi-million dollar price tags in the future. Luke Rosiak of the Daily Caller News Foundation describes some of the more incredible evasiveness from responsibility being taken by the VA facility’s top administrator:

Federal officials took six years to plan a new parking lot for a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in West Virginia that would cost $10 million for only 25 parking spaces, as their solution for a 600-spot shortage.

Then when outside auditors pulled the plug on the fiasco, the hospital’s top official — who had previously served as the facility’s Chief of Staff since 1999 — claimed that it wasn’t his fault because he was new on the job.

Dr. Glenn R. Snider Jr. “didn’t become director of the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center until March 2016” so he “wasn’t in charge then” was the takeaway of the local paper, the Exponent Telegram, after speaking with Snider.

“I didn’t run the show then,” Snider told them of the parking lot and seven similarly long-running boondoggles.

Snider’s bio says “he has served as the chief of staff at the medical center since September 1999” and began serving as acting director in May 2015 before it was made permanent last year.

But wait, there’s more!

While publicly positioning himself as the solution to the problems, Snider privately argued that not all the problems needed addressing by the facility, telling the VA Inspector General IIG) he “disagreed with your conclusion” and “took exception,” blaming the VA regional office above the hospital.

He said he thought the auditors were “inaccurate and misleading” and the “$9.3 million was neither lost, nor misspent” because the project had been aborted, thanks to auditors’ intervention, thus raising the question of why he’s touting himself as the best person to fix a problem he denies exists.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General has a different impression of the site’s management:

We advised the two VA representatives that spending $9.7 million to increase parking capacity by only 25 spaces did not represent a prudent use of taxpayer funds. Construction of this parking garage as planned would cost approximately $388,000 per parking space. Furthermore, once this project was complete, the VAMC would still not have solved its parking space shortfall of approximately 625 spaces.

While the VA’s Clarksburg medical center would appear to still be 650 parking spaces short of what it needs to serve its community, this is a success story, although one that still involves waste to U.S. taxpayers. The VA spent approximately $400,000 in pursuing its botched parking garage project over the six years before common sense imposed from outside auditors prevailed.

Only in government can success mean that only hundreds of thousands of dollars went to waste while the needs of regular Americans, in this case, VA patients needing reasonable parking accommodations for when they seek medical care at the only facility they are entitled to receive it in the area, went completely unfulfilled.

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April 2017