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Blog: Feds Investigate Fort Howard LLC And Process Behind Project

Congress calls for investigation into the program after scathing audit.

After a scathing audit by the Department of Veterans Affairs and a series of news articles, I've learned that investigators from the Office of Government Accountability (GAO) are investigating the entire VA process which includes the $500 million Fort Howard LLC project proposed for the Fort Howard VA Medical Center campus.

Some of you may remember a rather short notice that appeared in the Baltimore Sun on October 31, 2011, (see photo) announcing a draft available for public review and the issue of what is known as a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) regarding the development project's impact on the community. 

The uproar occurred over the announcement that the community had less than a month to voice their concerns or the project would move forward.  

The simmering project boiled over when the Dundalk Eagle ran a story in which Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger was interviewed by the paper. His statements seemed to indicate the project was moving along with the blessing of the VA, despite the fact that the data used by Fort Howard LLC was submitted also by Federal Development, leader of an earlier attempt to redevelop the land, from 2003 and was ultimately terminated in June of 2009 by the VA.

The VA’s own website reveals some of the apparent violations of their own regulations.  In  order to meet the deadline of obtaining the Enhanced Use Lease (EUL), Fort Howard LLC relied on outdated documentation from the previous developer Federal Development LLC.  After a request for a EUL from a developer is rejected, the process begins anew, according to the VA. 

Federal Development was involved in a scandal when some of the veterans' deposit money for rental units was not returned (see this article published by the Baltimore Sun, which also alluded to the termination of the EUL).

Now here is where the discrepancies involving the compliance required by developer Fort Howard LLC come under careful scrutiny.  In the case of Fort Howard LLC, they were required under the VA guidelines to submit an entirely new set of studies including numerous issues such as impact on the community on matters as traffic, and infrastructure reports regarding water, soil and power, among others.

The crucial question regarding this matter involves the Secretary of the VA’s authority to sign these EUL leases.  That power expired 12/31/11 at midnight.  Now given those timelines one only needs to look at the VA’s web site and the data submitted by Fort Howard LLC which was dated as far back as January of 2003 to see that at the very least this is a violation. 

When I interviewed Mr. Ed Bradley from the VA who was overseeing the Fort Howard EUL, he confirmed that once the current developers' EUL is rejected, the new bidder must begin the process anew.   I then asked several more questions concerning the VA’s website showing the current data for Fort Howard LLC  was outdated and submitted by Federal Development.  His reply was the VA had to update their site, but in their final report they elude to the old data which conflicts with his comment to me.  As of the date of this blog the site still contains the same information.  

I further inquired if Fort Howard LLC had met the requirements before the deadline and he said he had no comment and they were given a short term lease to allow them additional time to meet the requirements.  When asked how this could be within the guidelines he responded he could not comment on that issue.

He also could not comment on any of the requirements Fort Howard LLC had met or what the timeline was regarding the deadline of meeting these requirements.

This brings into question Congressman Ruppersberger's remarks in the Eagle interview.  In a letter to the VA both Ruppersberger and U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski stated the VA addressed many of the community concerns but there was no elaboration regarding these concerns, according to the Eagle.  This is strange because out of the 9,500 residents of the Fort Howard area there are over 6,000 signatures of protest over this project.  This also includes complaints from HSPH and ACHP Historical Societies along with 15 unanswered ones from the community.   Under the VA’s own guidelines they must respond to these community concerns.

“I feel very good about the response I got”, Ruppersberger was quoted as saying in the Eagle interview.  The congressman went on to state “I feel like Secretary Shinscki (Eric Shinsecki, Secretary of the VA) has addressed the concerns that were raised.” 

If that is the case then why did Congress ask for the GAO to investigate the EUL process?

Shinsecki went on to say in the story from the Eagle, “… VA is committed to establishing a EUL at the VA Fort Howard campus to provide a full spectrum of Veteran’s preference housing that will serve multiple Veteran populations …”

There are still many issues facing this proposed development and these are just some of them.  

The GOA investigation will be crucial to not only the Fort Howard LLC, but the entire VA EUL program.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Buzz Beeler August 24, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Wayne, they simply manage the land and are supposed to see that it is utilized for the benefits of our veterans. The program is an utter mess and that is why there are problems with accountability. That is why the GAO stepped in. Read the first few pages of the audit where it states some of the issues.
Buzz Beeler August 24, 2012 at 04:05 AM
They manage the land in order that it is used properly and that means its use should be for our veterans. How can you not grasp this. Do you want me to write in slow motion in order for you to comprehend the article. The area in blue reveals the documents. You do know the difference between 2003 and 2009 don't you. If you had the ability to absorb the reading of the article you would clearly see what is taking place, however at your speed, (slow motion) it just goes right over your head. Do some research instead of just running your mouth. I'm getting a copy of he final report and I'll hire a tutor to read it to you.
Steve August 24, 2012 at 04:27 AM
They don't manage anything. They issue and RFP to developers and pick the "best" proposal. This is from the RFP: "The successful Offeror(s) will redevelop, operate, and maintain the Fort Howard Campus compatible with VA’s mission, goals, and objectives, as set forth in the Request for Proposals (RFP) and provide cash or in-kind considerations to VA equal to the fair market value of the leased assets as determined by the VA Secretary." The entire Site will be conveyed in a single transaction and will become the responsibility of the successful Offeror immediately after execution of the EUL agreement. VA does not prescribe a specific reuse product type, but encourages and prefers redevelopment and/or adaptive reuse concepts for the existing Site to include, but not be limited to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) development that may consist of affordable independent or dependent senior housing, long-term care, assisted living, skilled nursing facilities or other residential healthcare uses that would cover the full CCRC spectrum. In addition, educational and community support facilities should be considered as part of overall the redevelopment concept." Your nose is still growing Pinocchio.
Buck Harmon August 24, 2012 at 11:21 AM
RFP's tend to be vague and are a tool that has been used by many governments when they themselves aren't able to manage property that is owned by taxpayers. There are many loop holes with most RFP's that I have had the opportunity to review and they tend to breed corruption that is easily hidden from the public. Not a great way to handle this type of property.
Buzz Beeler August 24, 2012 at 01:54 PM
As always you are outclassed and out of your league. You totally miss the point because people of our ilk just cannot comprehend issues because they cannot be objective. Buck is right in his assessment. I want you to read this statement from the audit ten times before you make a comment that will make you look rather inept again. "Since the housing facility opened in July 2005, the lessee has consistently had a waiting list for occupants. As such, priority placement for veterans at the EUL housing facility has not been ensured. Financing obtained by the lessee also dictated a maximum allowable income for 30 of 32 apartments at $22,300 per year for single occupancy. At this rate, 100 percent disabled veterans could not qualify for placement at the facility. According to VA, the average number of veterans housed in the facility in FY 2010 was 6 (19 percent) of 32 total apartments. In October 2011, lessee representatives at the EUL facility confirmed that the facility still only housed six veterans. VA often reported inaccurate ..." There are two issues at stake here. Number one the VA has not followed their OWN GUIDELINES and mismanages their own program. Number two the lessee is failing to adhere to their RFP in numerous issues that are required by the VA before a EUL is granted. You have never been involved in any of this, have not direct knowledge of the issues, don't have a clue as to the what this is about, but yet you claim to have all the answers.

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