VA Real Property: Preliminary observations on the challenges limiting VA’s ability to effectively manage its assets

What the GAO found

GAO has identified key features of an asset management framework designed to optimize funding and decision-making related to capital assets. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to have difficulty meeting at least three of these key characteristics.

  • Staff resources. This key characteristic requires organizational leadership to provide the resources necessary for successful asset management. Previously, VA leaders described issues resulting from low levels of staff resources, including project delays and project management difficulties. VA has taken some steps to improve staffing levels, such as establishing special salary rates for engineers, and VA’s vacancy rate for general engineers has improved from 17.2% during in fiscal year 2019 to 12.6% in fiscal year 2020. VA officials, however, continue to describe staffing challenges for project planning and execution and limitations in the number of projects institutions can undertake.
  • Communicate and collaborate. This key feature calls on organizations to foster a culture of sharing information across traditional agency boundaries to help ensure agencies make effective, enterprise-wide decisions about their assets. VA has taken steps to improve communication between asset management offices, such as issuing an asset management guideline that VA officials believe would help facilitate such collaboration. However, in ongoing work, GAO has found instances of poor communication, such as lack of (1) early project development collaboration between field offices and the Office of Construction and Facilities Management and (2) coordination between construction offices and the Office of Information and Technology when bringing facilities online.
  • Measurement and evaluation. This key feature calls on agencies to continually assess the performance of their asset management systems and implement necessary improvements to optimize asset value and ensure that assets reflect the organization’s current objectives. VA previously developed goals and metrics for its inspections program to identify maintenance and repair needs in healthcare facilities. However, VA currently lacks targets with related metrics that would assess its asset management processes and point the way to needed improvements.

Why GAO Did This Study

VA manages an extensive portfolio of real estate assets, including a healthcare system that provides care at 171 VA medical centers and 1,112 outpatient sites to more than 9 million veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare program. VA has urgent infrastructure needs, including adapting to changing veteran demographics and maintaining or replacing aging facilities.

Key features of a GAO asset management framework state that effective asset management requires, among other things, maintaining management support that provides the necessary resources; a collaborative organizational culture; and a system for assessing and improving asset management performance. However, past and ongoing GAO work has revealed that VA continues to face challenges on these fronts. While VA has implemented some GAO recommendations, several priority recommendations remain outstanding in areas related to asset management, such as staffing and capital planning.

GAO was asked to testify about VA’s management of its fixed assets portfolio. This statement summarizes GAO’s findings from previous reports and preliminary observations of ongoing work examining VA’s capital asset management. As part of its ongoing work, GAO reviewed VA documentation and interviewed officials from VA headquarters offices involved in asset management. GAO also interviewed staff at a selection of eight VA medical centers and seven regional offices and four veteran service organizations about VA asset management.

For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or [email protected]