The Military Health System has engaged in unethical contracting with a technology company that is developing one of government's most complex and high-profile computer networks, an electronic health record system that eventually will exchange information with the Veterans Affairs Department, internal e-mails sent within the Army Medical Command and the Military Health System alleged.
Maj. Frank Tucker, chief of product development for the Defense Health Information Management System at the Military Health System, said in an e-mail on July 15 that he was directed by Tommy J. Morris, acting director of the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health Protection and Readiness Programs, to provide Adara Networks Inc. with the software and documentation for the Defense Health Information Management System on the premise that the company would not compete for development contracts.
DHIMS is the umbrella organization within the Military Health System that provides information technology systems that capture, manage and share data for the military's massive electronic health record system.
Despite Morris' assurance that Adara would not receive a development contract, Tucker alleged in an e-mail provided to Nextgov that the company was awarded a sole-source contract, the value of which was not identified. He wrote in his e-mail that the contract was "unethical considering we gave them code for most of the code for MHS, giving them an unfair advantage" in a competition.
John Cook, a lead consultant with Suss Consulting Inc., which advises contractors on securing federal business, said no company bidding on a competitive contract should be given access to inside information because it would give them an unfair advantage.
The Defense Department inspector general plans to investigate Tucker's allegations, and Ellen Embry, acting assistant secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, has started an internal investigation, said Cynthia Smith, a Defense Department spokeswoman. Smith did not provide the value or length of the Adara contract, or the justification for the sole-source award by deadline.
Adara Networks, based in San Jose, Calif., did not return calls seeking a comment before this story was posted.
The company manufactures and sells advanced Internet routers called NPX, which it claims can move data faster than conventional routers. Tucker charged in his e-mail "that it is unethical for Adara to blueprint their own multipath routers into the MHS architecture."
In September, Charles Campbell, chief information officer for MHS, told Nextgov that the agency planned to develop a new enterprise architecture that would show how an organization's IT supports its business processes and facilitate exchange of information between the Defense Department's AHLTA electronic health record system and VA's Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture electronic health record system.
An internal MHS briefing document shows that Adara's NPX hardware sits at the heart of the new MHS Unified Structure Regional Distribution Architecture Blueprint. The routers, the briefing illustrated, serve as a bridge between AHLTA and the Clinical Data Repository, which stores more than 9 million military health records for the two systems.
Tucker also charged Adara was tasked to develop prototypes of a software enterprise service bus, which enables exchange of information, and a graphical user interface as part of the architecture blueprint. Tucker said Adara developed both of these "without fair competition."
The interface "was not as promised," he wrote. "It was not ready for prime time and did not contain all the code . . . for the video displays."
Tucker concluded his e-mail saying, "I am particularly uncomfortable about the work related to Adara. This does not seem ethical. Things came to a head for me when it was announced that Adara was going to get a sole-source contract that includes DHIMS integration."
Embry has assigned a fast-track team to make a preliminary programmatic assessment of the allegations and make appropriate recommendations, Pentagon spokeswoman Smith said.
The subcommittees on Military Personnel and Terrorism and on Unconventional Threats and Capabilities are aware of the charges and the investigation "and are monitoring it closely," said Lara Battles, a spokeswoman for the House Armed Services Committee.
The committee shifted $1.1 billion of MHS' $1.3 billion IT budget for fiscal 2010 to the Office of the Secretary of Defense in its version of the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization bill.
The Armed Services Committee said in its report on the bill that "a higher level of leadership oversight is required to ensure that existing problems with the department's health information management/information technology programs are addressed and to ensure better coordination among other department information technology efforts".
The House Appropriations Committee estimated in its report on the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations bill that it would cost MHS $1.2 billion to develop its health IT architecture during the next two years. A congressional staffer said MHS has not yet requested this finding.