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VA Chief Leaves Questionable IT Record

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By Daniel Pulliam July 17, 2007

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James Nicholson, head of the Veterans Affairs Department for the last two and a half years, announced he will leave government service by Oct. 1. In announcing his departure, the VA praised his leadership in modernizing the department's information technology, among other things.

But just a year ago members of Congress were calling on Nicholson to resign in the wake of one of the largest security breaches in U.S. history. In May 2006 a laptop computer containing personal information on 26.5 million veterans and active duty military personnel was stolen from an employee's home.

In June 2006, Pedro Cadenas, who resigned as VA information security chief, told Government Executive that he had an impossible job and that he was cut out of the department's executive decision-making process. During his tenure at the department, Cadenas said he met Nicholson only once at a social event. After Cadenas introduced himself, Nicholson reportedly said that he heard that Cadenas' job was important.

"The department has no interest in doing the right thing," Cadenas said at the time. "I was trained to do things the right way, not the good old boy way. I am having personal difficulty looking veterans in the eye and telling them that things will be OK."

Earlier that month Nicholson issued a directive giving expanded powers to the VA's chief information officer, in addition to the authority granted in the department's IT reorganization the previous year.

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