Design errors, delays add $408M in costs to new Fort Bliss hospital complex, audit finds
By VIC KOLENC | The El Paso Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 12, 2018
Construction of the new William Beaumont Army Medical Center complex at Fort Bliss has been plagued by hundreds of design errors, design omissions, contract changes and time delays that have put the massive project almost three years behind schedule and added $408 million in additional costs, a new federal audit found.
In May 2017, the U.S. Defense health Agency, one of several federal agencies overseeing the hospital project, notified Congress that the project's authorized cost increased to $1.2 billion, according to a project timeline in the audit report.
The original construction cost for several contracts was $812.8 million, including $648.9 million, for the main six-building hospital complex, according to the audit report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General in Washington, D.C.
Through March 15, the project had 978 contract change requests, including 132 cancelled requests, the audit found.
In October 2016, an El Paso Times investigation found that the hospital project was then almost two years behind schedule and at least $22 million over the original, $648.9 million, main construction contract.
Construction began August 19, 2013, and was originally scheduled to be done Nov. 26, 2016; and the hospital was to be ready to occupy by April 2017, according to the audit report's timeline.
Now, construction is projected to be completed July 25, 2019, and the hospital projected to be ready for occupancy in February 2020, with full hospital operation by September 2020, according to the audit report.
The 1.1 million square-foot medical complex, which includes an 135-bed hospital and 30 specialty clinics, is located on 270 acres of Fort Bliss land at Spur 601 and Loop 375 in East El Paso.
It's replacing the 46-year-old, 12-story, 670,024 square-foot, 115-bed Beaumont hospital and clinics now located on Fort Bliss land at 5005 N. Piedras in North Central El Paso.
Construction leaders under fire
The DOD Inspector General recommended that officials involved in the construction be held accountable for any actions that caused cost and time increases for the Fort Bliss project.
The hospital complex is being built by Clark McCarthy Healthcare Partners II, a joint venture of Clark Construction Group located in the Washington, D.C., area, and McCarthy Building Companies of St. Louis. Each contractor has been involved in building hundreds of hospitals and other medical facilities in the United States, including other military hospitals.
More than 1,000 workers have been involved in constructing the complex.
Several federal agencies were involved with the design of the hospital complex. But the construction has mainly been overseen by two federal agencies: the Army Health Facility Planning Agency, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Defense health Agency is the resource sponsor for the Fort Bliss hospital project, according to the audit report.
In March 2016, "significant leadership changes" were made in the project's on-site construction leaders, including for the Army Corps of Engineers, and for Clark McCarthy, according to the audit report.
Steel beams had to be remade
Several major construction delays occurred for various reasons, the audit report showed, including these delays:
- The pier drilling subcontractor responsible for laying the foundation for the hospital went bankrupt in February 2014, only six months after construction began.
- Delivery of steel to the construction site was halted for a time after federal agencies ordered that "certain structural steel beams and columns be refabricated to correct errors in the design of the structure."
- Unspecified interior framing issues.
- Seismic tests to ensure the structures being built are earthquake proof.
- An El Paso welder was killed in an accident at the construction site in February 2015, causing a one-month construction stoppage.
One of the big design errors noted in the audit was the need to correct light fixtures and ceiling problems at a cost of $1.8 million.
Problems with the Fort Bliss hospital project were evident as early as October 2015 based on project reports issued by various federal agencies involved with the project, according to the audit report.
At a meeting in November 2015, Clark McCarthy joint venture executives said many of the problems "were due to complications in the joint venture's interpretation of the (project) design." And the joint venture executives determined the design interpretation issues were the responsibility of the government, "thus impacting the contractor's ability to perform."
The DOD Inspector General found that contract reporting requirements for military construction projects authorized by the U.S. Congress were not implemented by the Department of Defense.
"Therefore, the DOD components involved in the (hospital) project did not know what information to report or the roles and responsibilities for reporting," the audit concluded.
The Inspector General's office recommended that the DOD develop contract reporting requirements for large military construction projects, and "develop guidance to identify roles and responsibilities for key segments of construction and establish metrics that include financial risk management parameters and triggers."
It also recommended that three agencies involved with the Fort Bliss project review actions of officials involved with the project and hold them accountable for any actions that resulted in increases in construction costs and construction time.
The agencies' leaders agreed with the recommendations, except for the chief of staff for the Surgeon General Office, who disagreed with reviewing the actions of those involved with the project, and holding them accountable for problems. However, the chief of staff said he would conduct an inquiry to examine military construction processes and management and refine current procedures, according to the audit report.
The Army Corps of Engineers commander told the auditors that the agency will conduct an "after action report within 180 days of construction completion, which is currently planned for September 2019."
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