After the Department of Veterans Affairs' Denver hospital inexplicably went more than a billion dollars over budget, department brass assembled a team of experts to get to the bottom of the construction boondoggle — but not one of them has any knowledge of construction, the Washington Examiner has learned.

The Denver Administrative Investigation Board comprises Michael Culpepper, deputy director of the department's Office of Accountability Review; Jeffrey Stacey, a lawyer for the department's Denver region; and Scott Foster, whose title is Employee Relations Specialist.

The panel is charged with getting deep into the weeds of how construction overruns came to be, and how to avoid them on future projects. Department officials have made "lessons learned" from construction failures a major public talking point, uttering the phrase at least eight times in recent congressional hearings. But it has never said what those lessons are, and it is unclear how lawyers and human resources workers could properly derive them.

The Denver project's principal construction company, Kiewit-Turner, stopped work after it said that Veterans Affairs failed to both pay it and provide viable blueprints.

Every major construction project at Veterans Affairs is months behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget, but VA has maintained the status quo in its management processes.

Glenn Haggstrom, director of the department's Office of Acquisition, Logistics, and Construction, faced no repercussions over the years, and was paid $20,000 annual performance bonuses. He retired voluntarily this year following extensive media coverage of the dire problems afflicting the Denver project specifically and the department's woeful performance overall in managing its construction projects.

The Denver hospital now has a $1.7 billion price tag, up from $328 million. The facility includes a 1,200-foot-long glass concourse and other extravagances.

But the source of the cost overruns have to do with the intricacies of construction and contracting that only engineers and contract specialists would understand.

One such specialist warned Haggstrom in 2011 that the department's decision-making was flawed and would lead to massive budget overruns. Haggstrom fired him, the Denver Post reported earlier this month.

There was supposed to be a fourth member of the panel who did have a construction background — Joanna Krause of the Navy's Medical Facilities Design Office — but Veterans Affairs has not managed to secure approval for the Navy to detail the employee to the department, and it has no timetable on if or when that will happen.

Having at least one construction expert is of such a low priority for the department that the review panel has already begun its work without her, and plans to possibly echo the findings — as shaped by the understandings and questions of people with no construction knowledge — back to her when and if she eventually joins.

"The other AIB members are proceeding to take testimony from witnesses without her and will consult her as an expert as they proceed to make findings and recommendations based on the evidence they are collecting," a Veterans Affairs staffer wrote in emails obtained by the Examiner.

Department officials have offered no explanation for the presence of an Employee Relations Specialist on the review panel. Congress has given department officials special flexibility to fire incompetent managers but they have yet to use that authority to fix a federal agency that is afflicted with chronic dysfunction in virtually every major area of responsibility.

All three of the department's three high-profile Administrative Investigative Boards have been comprised of people who were unable to aggressively and impartially hold people accountable.

The Tomah, Wis., hospital dispensed opiates like "candy," leading to deaths, and retaliated against whistleblowers and fudged paperwork. But the person leading the Tomah investigative board is Deborah Amdur, who as director of the department's Vermont hospital misled Congress about having given recalled drugs to a veteran and hid records proving it for five years.

In Phoenix, where data manipulations were used to conceal the fact that dozens of veterans died waiting for care, the Administrative Investigative Board was halted after it was determined that one of its members had a conflict of interest that might complicate holding accountable the employees at fault, according to the Arizona Republic.

Veterans Affairs did not respond to an Examiner request for comment.