11/01/2009 11:19 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Breaking News: DoD Admits New Walter Reed Not World-Class


DoD Photo Deputy Secretary of Defense Lynn

The Department of Defense informed Congress late last month that the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) will not be a world-class facility after all. This stunning admission came from Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn, III in a letter to congressional defense committees:

"While Congress has specified that the new WRNMMC and FBCH should be designed and constructed to be world-class military medical facilities, this is not an underlying requirement of BRAC 2005 recommendations. Instead the development of these facilities as world-class military medical facilities in collaboration with our academic and clinical partners such as the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), National Institutes of Health, and Veterans Administration will be an ongoing requiring continuous improvement and bench marking to commercial best practices. "

Finally, in black and white, the Department of Defense admits that after spending the approximately 400 million dollars budgeted and an additional already huge billion dollar cost overrun, the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center will fall far short of world-class status. The new Walter Reed will not even possess all the capabilities now available at the Current Walter Reed. Rather, this new facility will have significant shortcomings: too few and too small operating rooms, infection spreading two person rooms which are no longer even state of the art for medical centers and completely inadequate patient and employee parking. These are just a few challenges facing this construction debacle; there are many more. One other point, a quote from a US healthcare analyst who will remain nameless:

"...if best commercial practices in health care are so good how did America dig itself into such a hole by using them? Military health care has some unique characteristics and requirements and we need to wake up and understand them."

On 18 October, I asked:

"It is long past time, for DoD, the Navy and the Joint Chiefs to review the entire project. They must admit that the construction of a true world class facility cannot be accomplished within the time and funding constraints established by Congress. Will our military and civilian defense leadership display both the character and the integrity to guarantee our military receives the world class facility promised by Congress or will they saddle our military with an inadequate facility and hidden costs far into the future? "

Secretary Lynn's answer followed both paths. He acknowledged that the new Walter Reed will not be world-class but then proposes continuing on a path carrying cost overruns far into the future, if the facility is ever to become world-class.

What I find amazing is that in addition to apparently condoning the mismanagement of the entire National Military Medical Center project, there is no failure admitted or proposals for correction. In essence, the Department of Defense kicked the can far into future budget cycles. In the meantime our troops and their families will be deprived of Walter Reed and shoehorned into a facility that may not even achieve state of the art for modern medical centers.

Congress should halt further construction as soon as possible. Guarantee the needs of our military are properly met and tax payers dollars not squandered further. As an "Air Force guy" with no axe to grind, DoD should assign the Bethesda project lead to the US Army as the Navy clearly is not up to the task.