WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The Inspector General for Veterans Affairs is finalizing his investigation into why the federal government is paying well over the going market rate to rent the Wilmington VA Clinic.
During our coverage of a water contamination problem at the clinic in 2015, WECT uncovered a private landlord is getting nearly $300,000 a month in rent under the terms of a 20-year lease for the VA clinic on the grounds of the Wilmington International Airport. Congressman Walter Jones has been following this issue since our first articles were published, and requested the Inspector General's investigation.
Commercial real estate brokers told WECT at the time that the rate the VA is paying for the Wilmington clinic is about twice the going rate for prime medical real estate in the Wilmington area.
After pressing for answers, Jones learned that six different companies submitted bids to build the 80,000-square-foot clinic for the VA. But Jones was told in a letter from the VA they were "prohibited from releasing the cost proposals submitted by offerors in response to the requirements of a solicitation for a competitive proposal."
Jones has expressed concern to us and to the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs that this information is protected by law.
"This is unfortunate as the taxpayers have no option to know whether the VA accepted the best offer. I understand there are considerations other than price, but taxpayers should have access to what offers (the specific dollar amounts and details) were submitted to ensure any decision by a federal agency is in their best interest," Jones wrote in his letter to the Inspector General requesting a review of the bidding process for the Wilmington VA Clinic.
"I am considering legislation to allow taxpayers and/or members of congress some access to this information," Jones continued, noting "the federal government works for the taxpayers."
The Inspector General for the Department of Veteran's Affairs began investigating the bidding process for the Wilmington VA Clinic last summer. Jones' office told WECT that an investigation is now concluding. The Inspector General's office confirms the report detailing their findings is expected to be released in November.
The underlying water contamination issue at the Wilmington VA Clinic that led to the financial questions has never been resolved. The clinic uses a de-ionizing water filtration system to purify water for medical procedures. Bottled water is provided for drinking and cooking at the clinic.