Addresses Irwin Army Hospital Delays and Army Corps of Engineers Inconsistencies; Questions Progress at Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Johnson County
Jun 08 2017
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) – Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans’ Affairs and Related Agencies – convened a hearing this week to receive testimony from senior leaders from each of the armed services and the Office of the Secretary of Defense regarding the president’s FY2018 budget request for military construction at home and abroad.
“After years of our armed services taking on increasing levels of risk in maintaining critical infrastructure, the FY2018 increase to Military Construction is an effort to refocus readiness on facilities that support our military,” said Sen. Moran. “This subcommittee is committed to making certain we fund projects that will directly improve the quality of life for those who serve and their families.”
During the hearing, Sen. Moran questioned the panel about the ways in which mismanagement of construction projects through the Army Corps of Engineers may be a systemic problem. He highlighted the example of Irwin Army Hospital at Fort Riley and the impact Army Corps delays had on the Fort Riley community. He also inquired about the progress to remediate the hazardous environmental conditions that remain at the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Johnson County, Kan.
Sen. Moran (0:02): “Let me begin by expressing my concern about the Army Corps of Engineers and its capabilities as providing engineering services, planning and design for military installations. I know this as a Kansan in regard to challenges as I’ve seen as a senator representing my state, but now in this capacity as chairman of this subcommittee I have the opportunity to approve or disapprove re-programming dollars… This year’s request includes $251 million for a replacement hospital at Fort Bliss, a project that will end up costing well over a billion dollars before it’s complete. Earlier this year the department sought a re-programming of $74 million to cover cost overruns resulting from ‘design errors, design omissions, and settlement of contractor requests for equitable adjustments.’ What I’ve seen in Kansas related to similar mismanagement of a hospital project at Fort Riley, in this case, the Corps and the contractor reached a settlement of $22 million, again the contractor being paid $22 million, to settle ‘design deficiencies and associated impacts and delays.’ These cases raise questions to me about the ability of the Army Corps to effectively manage major construction projects… how common is this? Do you share any of my concerns in regard to the Corps? Could you or perhaps the Army provide me with a complete list of projects that resulted in a settlement including the costs of those settlements related to those kinds of issues?”
Sec. Potochney (2:01): “Thank you for that question, sir. I can provide a list and I will do that for the record. I think any cost overrun is of concern. The construction world, as you know I’m sure better than me, is complex. Hospital construction in particular is complex… in this case, there was some difficulty… I know though that the Corps has put a fair amount of attention on this and should be up here and we’d like to get them on your calendar to brief you in particular.”
Sen. Moran (2:42): “I would expect this subcommittee pursuing this topic further and I’d be delighted to have the Corps have a conversation… is there a recognition that there is a problem in this regard?”
Sec. Potochney (3:05): “I forget what the statistics are, but the cost overruns are not as prevalent as… it’s a bad headline, and it receives attention, and it should receive attention, but I wouldn’t let it characterize the Corps’ overall capabilities or ability. So I am certainly concerned and others are as well but I think they deserve… the time to explain what happened in this instance in particular.”
Sen. Moran (3:37): “Again let me say that my impression is it’s more than once instance. I’m most familiar with what happened in Kansas… I would say that it’s a bad headline, that part is true, and it’s certainly expensive from a taxpayer point of view. What we saw in the case of Irwin Army Hospital is a delay of years before soldiers and their families and military retirees, were able to access the latest in newest technologies in a modern hospital. So it’s more than just a bad headline, it’s more than even cost to taxpayers, it has a consequence upon the health and well-being of those who serve our country and their family members. Let me ask you, General Bingham, your thoughts on my concern about this topic.”
Gen. Bingham (4:48): “Thank you Chairman Moran. I will just tell you that the Corps of Engineers Commander Lieutenant General Semonite is taking this issue very seriously. We have processes in place where we go about looking at these cost overruns as you described them and certainly we are concerned... I can say that on average we have more situations where we come in underfunded than we do over as it relates to cost. Currently about 65 percent of those projects are coming in under cost and about 32 percent are coming in over cost. So what we sincerely appreciate is your support for allowing us to be able to retain the bid savings so that we are able to accommodate the cost overruns.”
Sen. Moran (5:59): “I appreciate that… I want to make clear that I understand there can be cost overruns, and it’s pleasing, I suppose that our ability to estimate is more often on one side of the equation than the other, although the hope is that you can estimate… costs accurately. I understand that’s not always possible and circumstances change. But my greater concern is the explanation. I don’t want the Army to change their explanations when they ask me to approve a reprogramming, but the explanation is design errors, design omissions. So it’s not necessarily the cost overrun, it’s the reason in which the money is needed to be adjusted… Apparently the Army Corps of Engineers, in their design work, failed to do their job appropriately. Let me ask… General Green, you are a customer of the Army Corps of Engineers service and I wouldn’t want to let you off the hook without asking you the experience that the Air Force has had in regard to design work by the Corps.”
Gen. Green (7:38): “We have found great success with the Corps in working across the nation. But I would agree that it is inconsistent at times, just like any large bureaucracy, the Corps is a very large organization so there have been pockets of challenges for the Air Force but there have been pockets of great success. In fact, Kansas City District, that’s run the construction for the KC-46 beddown at McConnell, has proven to be very successful. Through innovation and thinking ahead and looking ahead they’ve saved over $40 million in that program. So I do recognize and acknowledge the problems that you’re referring to. We have experienced some of our share. But I do not think it’s a brush in which we would paint the entire Corps. I think it’s uneven across such a large bureaucracy which is something that we all experience in large organizations.”
Sen. Moran (14:24): “I want to direct a question to General Bingham and that’s about Sunflower… former Army Ammunition Plant in Kansas. In 2016 I hosted the Army Assistant Secretary for Installations, Secretary Hammack, to that facility. It seemed to me that for a brief period of time that we were moving forward in trying to resolve the environmental and remediation problems associated with the abandonment of this ammunition plant, but it also now seems to me that progress has slowed to a crawl. General, if you could tell me what you know about this project and how we’re going to get it back on track – if my evaluation is correct. I then seek your commitment to resolve this to a full cleanup.”
Gen. Bingham (15:22): “Thank you Chairman Moran, I appreciate the question. We feel that we are on track with the Sunflower former ammo plant… we have committed contract dollars to help with the cleanup efforts there. Both on the soil remediation as well as the explosive hazard. To that end, we have taken on a more comprehensive health risk assessment... So as we look to get back those results we believe it will help inform our way ahead such that we can go about the cleanup efforts associated at Sunflower.”
Sen. Moran (16:03): “I am not an expert at this and don’t know how desirable this is but a thing to think about I think is are there sections… within this wide expanse of land that could be remediated and cleaned up and property moved on to be sold and developed, in a sense, in an incremental fashion? Are there things we can do that are less problematic and get them done? On the other hand I don’t want to let anybody off the hook to get the whole thing cleaned up… I would love for that dialogue to continue to see if we can’t find solutions that speed up the process.”
Gen. Bingham (16:45): “I understand, Chairman, where you’re going with that. We’ll look to where we can mitigate that incrementally to help expedite that action.”
Sen. Moran (17:01): “I think I got your commitment to see that we get to a full cleanup?”
Gen. Bingham (17:05): “We are committed to that end.”
Witnesses included Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy, Installations, and Environment Peter J. Potochney; Assistant Chief of Staff of the Army for Installation Management Lieutenant General Gwendolyn Bingham; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics Vice Admiral Dixon R. Smith; Commander of Marine Corps Installations Command and Assistant Deputy Commandant, Installations, and Logistics (Facilities) Major General John J. Broadmeadow; and Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection and Director of Civil Engineers Major General Timothy S. Green.