Shortages of personnel continue to cause problems such as project delays and difficulties in managing projects at VA sites, GAO said at a recent Senate hearing.
It said that the VA “has taken some actions to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers” that for example reduced the vacancy rate for general engineers from 17.2 percent in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6 percent in fiscal year 2020.
“VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing difficulties in planning and executing projects and limits on the number of projects that facilities can undertake” at the department’s 171 medical centers and more than 1,100 outpatient facilities, the GAO said.
For example, “Officials from several regional offices told us that it is difficult for the regions to compete with other federal agencies for engineers. Similarly, officials from two urban medical centers said it is especially difficult to recruit engineers and maintenance staffs for their facilities given the high cost of living in their areas, and because of competition with other federal agencies and the private sector.”
Other problems that continue although the VA similarly has taken some steps to address them, a witness said, include insufficient collaboration among different offices within the VA and a lack of ways to measure the asset management process and make recommendations for improvements.
The GAO said that while the VA is requesting $4.5 billion for construction and non-recurring maintenance projects in its fiscal 2022 budget, it also has a “growing backlog of maintenance on its facilities, which are considerably older than private-sector counterparts and thus costly to renovate and modernize” with an estimate that fulfilling all of its priority projects in its 10-year capital plan would cost $58 billion to $71 billion.