Congressman Kevin McCarthy is not hiding his angst and frustration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Nearly two months after The Californian broke the story that the VA canceled a contract it had awarded a year before to construct and operate a new veterans clinic at a site in northwest Bakersfield, McCarthy again responded to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie.
"I will hold the VA’s feet to the fire on this procurement schedule — our veterans deserve nothing less," McCarthy said Friday in a statement.
His patience apparently wearing thin, McCarthy was adamant.
“The facts haven’t changed," he said. "Our veterans must continue waiting for a new healthcare facility because the VA failed to follow its own rules, resulting in the cancellation of the lease awarded last year for a new CBOC (Community-Based Outpatient Clinic) in Bakersfield. I share our veterans’ frustrations and continue to communicate their concerns directly to Secretary Wilkie."
Last year, after years of delays, it was McCarthy himself who announced with great fanfare at a press conference that a new $40 million, state-of-the-art outpatient clinic on Knudsen Drive would replace the old facility on Westwind Drive.
"It says a lot about the character of a nation in the way it treats those who have defended its freedom," McCarthy told the crowd that gathered last year outside his local office.
A year later, after the sweet news had turned sour, the words have taken on a different ring.
In September, McCarthy testified before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs where he called for the timely completion of the project. Congress, he said, authorized the construction of 15 new facilities in 2010, including a new clinic in Bakersfield. The local clinic is the only project that remains stalled.
On Oct. 7, three days after The Californian's story went public, McCarthy sent a letter to Wilkie demanding a timeline no later than 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Oct. 11.
McCarthy told Wilkie his office was not informed of the cancellation of the Knudsen Drive contract until Oct. 4.
"The lack of any schedule or timeline regarding a new Bakersfield CBOC, as the VA restarts the solicitation process following the cancellation of the recent lease award, is resulting in confusion and anger in the local veteran community," McCarthy wrote in the Oct. 7 letter. "A timeline detailing when a CBOC will be opened in Bakersfield will provide our veterans community with assurance the VA remains committed to this project, that there will no more delays, and that the clinic will come to fruition as soon as possible."
VA spokesman Damian McGee told The Californian in early October that the VA was moving forward with a new expedited procurement process. The previous selection process apparently violated agency rules in not properly evaluating a proposal by the current contract holders to renovate the Westwind clinic.
These veterans clinics are not owned by the federal government but are leased to private companies.
On Oct. 10, Secretary Wilkie did get a timeline to McCarthy. But it's not likely to make anyone happy. It estimates a lease will be awarded by August 2020. But after designing, permitting and construction, the clinic would likely open and begin treating veterans in the third quarter of 2023.
In a letter to McCarthy dated Nov. 20, Wilkie tried to assure the congressman that the "VA is committed to the execution of the Bakersfield-area lease, and as promised, we look forward to providing regular updates to your staff on the status of the procurement."
Meanwhile, Allen Hubsch, a partner in the current ownership of the Westwind Drive clinic, told The Californian in October that he and his partner have for years been proposing that a complete renovation of the existing clinic is the way to go, with a modern, efficient layout and all the latest technology and equipment.
"A renovation could be done in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost," he said. "Veterans deserve a state of the art clinic now. A complete renovation of the existing clinic is the answer."