Appropriators worry VA isn't capitalizing on IT centralization

The central office responsible for overseeing the department's technology lacks a clear organizational structure, Senate panel reports.

Senate appropriators are concerned that centralization of Veterans Affairs Department information technology operations has failed to improve efficiency, according to a report accompanying the fiscal 2009 VA spending bill.

Comment on this article in The Forum.VA restructured its IT operations in April 2007, giving the Office of Information and Technology central decision-making authority. The new structure replaced a highly decentralized system where VA organizations such as the Veterans Health Administration, and even individual medical centers, ran their own IT show.

But the report, released early last week, said members of the Senate Appropriations Committee have "repeatedly heard complaints that VA's Office of Information and Technology has not established standardized policies and procedures for requesting and receiving information technology services, equipment…and has not established a clear organizational structure."

The panel also expressed concern that VA is having trouble identifying its IT needs under the centralized structure. This is particularly true of needs at the agency's hospitals, clinics and nursing homes, the committee said.

Appropriators directed VA officials to provide a progress report within six months of the spending bill's passage. The report must document efficiencies that have been realized and policies and procedures that have been established for requesting information technology services, equipment and development.

Members of the panel said, however, that they remain "very supportive" of the department's IT efforts. The Senate version of the spending bill would grant the agency a $2.5 billion IT budget for fiscal 2009, exceeding President Bush's request by $29.1 million and representing an increase of $504 million from fiscal 2008. The House Appropriations Committee exceeded Bush's request by $50 million in its version of the bill.

It will be a while before the IT budget is finalized. Once the appropriations bill passes the full House and Senate, the chambers will have to reconcile any differences during conference negotiations. Then each chamber will have to approve the compromise version, and President Bush must sign it.