Steffan Tubbs Show, Mike Coffman, July 20, 2018

Station:    KNUS, 710 am

Show:       Steffan Tubbs Show

Guests:    Coffman, Mike


Date:        July 20, 2018

Topics:    Aurora VA Hospital, Veterans Administration, Army Corps of Engineers, GSA, General Services Administration, Political Appointees, Deputy Secretaries, Stella Fiotes, Glen Hagstrum, Office of Inspector General, Government Accountability Office, GAO, Clean House, Over Budget, Behind Schedule, Activation Cost, PTSD Facility, Immigration, Compromise Bill, Four Pillars, Pathway to Citizenship, Merit Based, Familial Based, The Wall, Technology, Drones, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA, International Sex Trafficking of Children, Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, U.S. Consulate, Loopholes, political Asylum, Separation of Families, Southern Border

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HOST STEFFAN TUBBS: [00:00:01] As we continue at 6:06 [p.m.] — we’re on until 7 o’clock — it is my pleasure to welcome in a longtime friend, a military supporter, a veteran of the army and the United States Marine Corps, Congressman Mike Coffman. Mike, I appreciate you joining us on such short notice, and good evening.


TUBBS: [00:00:18] You bet. Let’s — I said last hour, I think I’ve talked with Mike Coffman about this Aurora VA hospital for at least five years. So, tell me your thoughts as the ceremonial ribbon is about to be cut.

COFFMAN: [00:00:33] You know, i think certainly mixed feelings. I feel good, certainly, from the standpoint that this will provide the care — the health care — that our veterans have earned through their military service — state of the art health care — that their new equipment, technology that’s in this hospital versus the old hospital. So, there’s a positive certain– certainly there’s a positive to all this. But at the same time, I feel there’s still an open wound that those responsible for these horrific cost overruns and schedule delays have not been held accountable. And I’m still going to work to make them accountable. I’m glad that I was able to lead the effort to — the successful effort — to get the Army Corps of Engineers in there, and to — not only — they went in there in 2015 to finish the hospital, and there is no way that we could have gotten funding from the Congress of the United States to pay for these cost overruns without the confidence that the Army Corps of Engineers could give in terms of taking over the project. And they’ve done a magnificent job. The um, — in addition, I was able to lead the fight to strip the Veterans Administration of their ability ever to build another hospital again on their own; that from now on, they will require a third party, such as the Army Corps of Engineers, the Navy equivalent, or the GSA General Services Administration to do it for them. But they will never again do it themselves. It’s not their competency. Their competency is providing benefits and delivering health care services to our veterans. It is not building hospitals.

TUBBS: [00:02:32] Congressman Mike Coffman, our guest here on 710 KNUS. You say that you’ll still lead the effort to hold those accountable accountable. How do you do that?

COFFMAN: [00:02:41] Well, I give you an example. There is an incredible learning example: tomorrow at the ceremony will be the director of V.A. construction and facilities management, Stella Fiotes. Stella Fiotes was in charge of V.A. construction and facilities management from 2013 on. And so, she has her fingerprints all over this mess. And yet, she’s still there. I mean, that — the fact that I was able to demonstrate to my colleagues in Congress that the VA was so incompetent that they had to be removed from this project and they had to be stripped of their construction management authorities ever build another hospital again, and the person in charge of that is still there, I think is a testament to the fact [of] the institutional bureaucratic incompetence of this organization. And the fact that is that this new administration has not cleaned up the V.A., as they said they would. I mean, I’m going to meet with the new secretary as soon as he gets confirmed, and what I want to tell him [is] — as I say, Stella Fiotes is just one example. But across the board in the V.A. there are about 400 what we call senior executive service positions. It is the most senior position — management position that is just under the political appointees in the V.A., the assistant secretaries, the deputy secretaries. And so, he’s got to go through that entire list for documented cases where there have been problems. And if those problems haven’t been cleaned up, then that person has to go. He’s got to clean house. So, there was — we had a Government Accountability Office report on this hospital in 2013. We had an Ofice of Inspector General report after that. So, it’s well documented, These problems. So why is this person still there? Let’s look across the board. Let’s clean house. And if he doesn’t clean house, no matter what he says, no matter what he does about — he says about reforming the V.A., it will not happen.

TUBBS: [00:05:00] Let’s talk about how over budget and how behind schedule this project is. What what are your best guesstimates, or if there are solid numbers and a timeframe that you can tell your constituents here?

COFFMAN: [00:05:14] Well, I think you — I mean, we — for comparative purposes, we isolate the numbers just to the construction cost. And so, that was — so authorized as a standalone — “authorized” because there was one time it was anticipated that it would be a joint facility with the University of Colorado — but as a standalong, 600 million dollars was authorized in terms of spending. And now, we’re at 1.73 billion dollars. Now, there is additional monies involved that bring the price tag up, which [are] called the ‘activation cost.’ But those are considered separate from the construction cost. And so it’s not an apples to apples comparison. That’s putting all the equipment in. Now, I will tell you that some of those costs were aggravated by virtue of these long construction delays that you had, that the technology or the equipment had changed during that long period — longer than it was supposed to take — and that the rooms had to be reconfigured to comport with that technology because the construction delays were so long. But in terms of the construction costs, we’re almost three times what it was supposed to cost.

TUBBS: [00:06:35] I mean, that’s just — as we’re talking with Congressman Mike Coffman — that is just — it’s an embarrassment!

COFFMAN: [00:06:41] No, it’s absolutely embarra–. But here’s the thing: that this is what is so shocking: is that it wasn’t embarrassing to — it was not embarrassing to the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you look at the hearings, where I would take them on, they were al– they were defensive about it. And is this — I mean, how can somebody like Stella Theotus or Glenn Hagstrum, who is her predecessor, how could they sleep at night? And let me tell you, on Shulkin, when –. I led the effort to get rid of Sulkin for one reason. And quite frankly, the catalyst for me wasn’t this European vacation that he took at taxpayers’ expense and lied to investigators when he came back. It was the fact that — what I found, that he was trying to promote Stella Fiotes, beyond construction and facilities management, to be in charge of both. There was a position above that that’s in charge of acquisition and construction of facilities management and I took him into my office and said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “She shouldn’t even be there.” And I remember one time, he said, “Well, she might have sued us, if we try to get rid of her.” And I said, “Really?!” I said, “Would that have cost a billion dollars?!” He goes, “Well, no.” So then, what he did, — because it’s an old game in federal civil service that when you want to promote somebody, you make them the acting director. So then, when you put the job out for a competitive bid, that’s the only person that has experience doing it. So, I understand the game he was playing. So what he did was, he didn’t fire her. He moved her back to being in charge of construction of facilities management, which is unbelievable, still, to me. So, this is — I mean, I’m going to have a very, very serious conversation with this new secretary, and essentially say, “Look, if we’re going to be friends, if we’re going to have a good working relationship, you have got to clean House. And it starts at the top. And if you’re not going to do that, let me tell you, we’re going to at war. And you are– no matter, again, what you say or do, you’re not going to reform this organization. This — an organization that has over that is over half the size of the United States Army, at over 360,000 employees. And let me tell you, a lot of them are good and a lot of them truly care about our nation’s veterans. But there are some that. And there’s a culture here that just doesn’t get rid of them. That has got to change.

TUBBS: [00:09:09] So have you heard — I mean, with something that costs just in the construction 1.73 billion dollars, this thing better be the best of the best, anywhere in the world. Are you hearing that?

COFFMAN: [00:09:23] No. Here’s the problem. There are some design flaws. There are two design flaws in the building, but maybe three. Okay? Let’s do three. One is: double the square footage, same number of beds and so so let’s take that equation again, double the square footage of the old hospital on Colorado Boulevard, fewer outpatient exam rooms. What that requires is — so, in other words, they cannot take — they are going to leave the first floor of the hsopital over on Colorado Boulevard open, until they can find another place to put these — what we call primary care PAC teams, primary care teams. And so, what they’re looking at is probably leasing space in Castle Rock to have kind of a southern presence, and then probably expanding, moving the Aurora facility a little further southeast, and expanding that — again, in leased space, in terms of those outpatient personnel. The planning was so bad that in the initial plan there was no — and again, we’re talking the same square limits And again, we’re talking the same square footage — or, double the square footage. So, we’ve got the same number of beds, we’re short of primary care exam teams. And we don’t have a PTSD clinic. That is — that will remain in the old hospital until they can find — until they can build they planning on building a standalone facility on the grounds of the hospice. Now, let me just say, I guess I have to defend it on one point, when we talk about comparisons of square footage: there is a spinal cord center that did not exist before — so, I do have to mention that, in the old hospital. But, I mean, the mere fact that they didn’t — that, you know — how hard would it be in terms of the planning process, number one, not to include PTSD. Basically, they broke ground during the height of Iraq and Afghanistan.

TUBBS: [00:11:49] Right.

COFFMAN: [00:11:51] You know? And so, to not have a PTSD facility envisioned inside this hospital is pretty incredible.

TUBBS: [00:11:59] It is. And I got to tell you, Mike, I was at a funeral today. A dear friend of mine, nine days ago, took his own life. And I was at Fort Logan for his funeral today. And the fact that they would not have a PTSD ward or unit is is beyond me.

COFFMAN: [00:12:16] Yeah.

TUBBS: [00:12:17] I don’t have –.

COFFMAN: [00:12:17] Now, there is one in the old hospital.

TUBBS: [00:12:17] Right.

COFFMAN: [00:12:17] They do have one in the old hospital, but it’s amazing: again, nothing in the new one. And that forces us, until we find another place to put these people, the old hospital. But it’s amazing. Again, nothing in the new one. And that forces us, again, until we find another place to put these people,– and the best place to put them would be co-located in the hospital, because they have — they can have, you know, what we call ‘co-morbid issues’ or, you know, that, you know, again, we’ll have to find another place for them.

TUBBS: [00:12:47] I just — my head shakes still.

COFFMAN: [00:12:50] Yeah, it is amazing.

TUBBS: [00:12:51] Listen, I don’t have an official invite. So, I’m going to pal around with you tomorrow, and I’m just part of your team.

COFFMAN: [00:12:56] Sure. Hey, Great! OK. Let’s do it! Let’s do it!

TUBBS: [00:12:59] I’ve got to ask you — I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you –.

COFFMAN: [00:13:02] Sure. Oh, yeah!

TUBBS: [00:13:02] — Because I haven’t had you on before since the compromise bill in the immigration debacle and everything.

COFFMAN: [00:13:09] Sure.

TUBBS: [00:13:09] You’ve been a friend a long time. I want to be straight shooting with you. I did not agree with you on being against the compromise bill. But I want to give you the opportunity, how come you did not support that in Washington?

COFFMAN: [00:13:24] Oh, no, no! I support –. So, there were two bills. The compromise bill I did support, and I did vote for. It had all four pillars of what the President asked for in the bill. It had a DACA and a path to citizenship for those young people — an earned path to citizenship. It had — it did away with the visa lottery program: 55,000 visas, not based on familial connections, not based on merit, simply based on luck, on a drawing, on under-represented countries. We have a very diverse country, today. That program is — needs to be scrapped. Then, I — then, a movement towards a merit-based, from a familial-based system, which I support. And then, the president — he calls it ‘the Wall’ — but his security plan, which is — really the wall replaces existing walls, existing barriers. It provides technology sensors and drones for surveillance. It plusses up the Border Patrol. And quite frankly, it brings families together. So, it really did a lot of, I think, positive things. Then, behind closed doors, the President was very much in favor of it. But he didn’t relay that outside that –. Unfortunately, the bill failed.

TUBBS: [00:14:46] Yeah. And, the more hard-line [bill] you were against from the beginning?

COFFMAN: [00:14:51] The, uh — now, the other bill was more of –. What the other bill did is it actually extended DACA, but made no changes to DACA. So, but it did allow for a renewal of the DACA status. And so, I think the primary difference between the two bills — the first and the second bill — so, I didn’t support the first bill. I supported the second bill. But there needs to be a resolution on the DACA thing, other than keeping these young people in just a gray area. There needs to be a resolution.

TUBBS: [00:15:24] Did you — as we wrap up — did you come away from your visits to Texas and along the border, did you come away with more empathy, with a better understanding?

COFFMAN: [00:15:36] Uh, both. I think, certainly, empathy to the center, where it was just a boneheaded thing to do, to take these families that — you know, tear these families apart. That was just a dumb thing to do. That was an unforced error this administration. And they could have gone to the Congress in advance for — to have the law tweaked to be able to keep these families together, even when prosecuting the parents who illegally crossed the border for — what is, in the first offense, a minor misdemeanor. The problem that — what I walked away with, was that the problem was far more significant than anybody has been saying. What I walked away with, was — I mean, when the –. You know, I think the President, I think, is underestimating the problem, where what I found was, it is not a problem of — really, quite frankly, it is not a problem of border security. It is a problem of loopholes in U.S. immigration law — that there are two loopholes in immigration law that create these magnets for these people to come; And let me tell you, just about anybody who wants to come through, comes through and they let them in. So what hap–. One magnet was an older one, which was — there was a well-intentioned law in 2008, designed to stop the international sex trafficking of children. And it was written in a quirky way. It had strong bipartisan support, signed by President George W. Bush. But it said, if you’re from a contiguous country– i.e. Mexico And Canada — the Border Patrol can simply wave you on. I mean, the — yeah, ‘wave you on’ if they don’t believe that you fit under the law. If you’re from a non-contiguous country — i.e. Central America — the Border Patrol has to let you in the country, and then you have to be adjudicated through the process, which takes years and people disapper in the meantime. Then, the second magnet is political asylum. And in political asylum, you can do it two ways. But all you have to do is say the right sentence. And the right sentence is, ‘you have a credible fear of…’ it Is all you have to do is say the right sentence and the right sends is you have a credible fear. And if you have a credible fill of fear of the Border Patrol cannot make that determination. So so people do one of two things they line up in the port of entry and then if they say that sentence the barbed wire has to let them in and there be and they can stay legally in this country and be adjudicated through the process. Then, if they cross illegally –even though they can be charged, even on that second offense, I think it’s a felony; first offense, it’s a misdemeanor, crossing the border illegally. They can still — They can still make, Ed, that statement and they have — we have to allow them to stay in the United States to be adjudicated through the legal process. It is incredible!

TUBBS: [00:18:45] It’s a mess. It’s a mess, man!

COFFMAN: [00:18:45] What is the Border Patrol–. The Border Patrol is just doing traffic control for people going up north!

TUBBS: [00:18:45] Right!

COFFMAN: [00:18:45] It is incredible. So, this notion that we’re going to do this border security plan and it’s going to take care of the problem –. Let me tell you, the problem right now, again, is not border security. It is that we have an ineffectual immigration system, that — and these loopholes –that it is just this incredible magnet. And so, I got a full appreciation of that when I was down there. I mean, if the president and the Congress want to stop this, it’s two tweaks in the law. I mean, all you have to do is say for the international sex trafficking of children law, where these minors come up unaccompanied, is all you gotta do is say, “Hey, we’re going to — No, it’s — the Border Patrol has that ability to make that determination, whether it’s a contiguous or non-contiguous country.” And on this political asylum, why don’t we just say you have to apply at a U.S. consulate. You can’t just come up to the border, and get caught illegally, and make that statement. You can’t just line up at a port of entry.

TUBBS:  [00:20:00] Right.

COFFMAN: [00:20:00] And we have to let you know, you have to be in another country going to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy. I mean, that would do more than the billions of dollars that we want to spend on border security. Now, I think there will be — once you do that, I think that, yes, there will be a time — I mean, in terms of the priority of things — to do border security. But it not the driver right now, in terms of illegal immigration. It is not a porous border.

TUBBS:  [00:20:27] Yeah, I know you’re your own man. This will be my final question. You’ve been too kind with your time. Do you feel at all, though, that you’ve betrayed the party in some of the things you’ve said, like calling the separation of families by the president “a terrible mistake.”

COFFMAN: [00:20:40] Oh, I think people have said that on a bipartisan basis, that it is a terrible –. I think I heard somebody say — a Republican said it in Washington– [said it] best when he said it was an ‘unforced error.’ I think that’s the best way to put it. I mean, it was just boneheaded. And it was unnecessary. And so, I would think it was a mistake. And yeah, but I — you know, what I represent is my district, the interest of my district, the interest of the state of Colorado, the interest of this country. And that’s over any political party.

TUBBS:  [00:21:13] I still say, you know what? We wouldn’t be in this position if they didn’t bring their kids to the border.

COFFMAN: [00:21:20] Oh, I — certainly, that’s part of the problem. But again, I think that –. But again, it is — what is attracting these people? What is attracting these people? It is political asylum.

TUBBS: [00:21:37] Yeah. I will see you tomorrow. Hold a seat for me, in case I don’t have a seat. Okay?

COFFMAN: [00:21:40] We’ll do it! I will keep it warm.

TUBBS: [00:21:42] All right, thanks!

COFFMAN: [00:21:43] Hey, thanks, guy!

TUBBS: : [00:21:43] Appreciate it. Congressman Mike Coffman, 25 minutes, commercial free.