VA Real Property:

VA Should Better Justify Its Need to Lease Major Medical Facilities

GAO-16-884T: Published: Sep 28, 2016. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2016.

Additional Materials:


Rebecca Shea
(202) 512-2834


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leases major medical facilities to benefit from shorter time frames to open a facility and to attain flexibility to relocate. These factors may help VA to meet its needs, such as improving facilities’ compliance with standards and increasing veterans’ access to care and services. Unlike owned facilities that can be difficult to dispose of, VA must vacate leased facilities at the end of the lease term, an approach that can allow VA to relocate to space better aligned with its needs. Leases executed under a delegation of authority from the General Services Administration (GSA) can be obligated on an annual basis, whereas owned facilities require full upfront funding that can be difficult to obtain. VA cited flexibility to move as a justification in all 51 of its proposals for these leases since 2015. VA does not, however, assess and provide information to decision makers on how it has benefited from this flexibility. Without transparency on these benefits, VA and congressional decision makers may lack information to understand the need for these leases. GAO and the Office of Management and Budget have reported on the importance of assessing the results of capital decisions in making future decisions.

VA’s cost-estimating procedures for leasing major medical facilities generally align with GAO’s 12 cost-estimating best practice steps and recent changes in VA’s approach may improve the quality of VA’s estimates. GAO’s review of cost data for these leases since 2006 found that actual costs often varied more than 15 percent above or below the estimates included in VA’s proposals for these leases, often due to project design changes. In 2016, VA introduced a design guide for leased medical facilities that delineates VA and federal requirements, such as security and sustainability standards, that may reduce the risk that a project, and its cost, change from what the VA proposed. VA also initiated a lessons-learned effort to evaluate the factors that contribute to differences between actual lease costs and those included in proposals. The success of these steps will depend on how quickly and effectively VA implements them.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA operates the largest health care network in the United States, with over 2,700 health care sites, including hospitals and outpatient facilities. However, many facilities are outdated, and VA estimates that its capital needs will require up to $63 billion over the next 10 years. In recent years, VA has increasingly leased its facilities, including major medical facilities.

This testimony discusses (1) the factors that account for VA’s decisions to lease major medical facilities and (2) the extent to which VA’s cost-estimating process for leasing these facilities reflects best practices. This testimony is based on GAO’s June 2016 report (GAO-16-619). For that report, GAO analyzed agency documents, VA data on major medical facilities’ leases, compared VA’s cost-estimating procedures to best practices in GAO’s Cost Guide, and interviewed VA officials.

What GAO Recommends

In its June 2016 report, GAO recommended that VA assess the benefits of leasing major medical facilities and use the information in VA’s annual capital plans. VA concurred with GAO’s recommendation.

For more information, contact Rebecca Shea at (202) 512-2834 or

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