Thanks, Roger

The VA CIO’s candid monthly media calls were unprecedented in my 28 years covering federal issues.

Veterans Affairs Chief Information Officer Roger Baker held his last monthly media call today, a free flowing back-and-forth unprecedented in the 28 years I have covered the federal government.

Baker rarely ducks and these sessions usually produce real news, not fluff. The story we posted earlier today on the huge jump in costs of the joint Defense-VA integrated electronic health record -- to $12 billion from earlier estimates in the $4-$6 billion range -- is a case in point.

Asked to sum up his career, Baker said he had the best IT job in the federal government, backed up by a great staff of 8,000. He said he was leaving due to the sheer demands of the job -- 11 and 12 hour days since May 2009, a schedule that mirrors that of his boss, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

He conceded some bumps along the way, including a far-from-perfect Veterans Benefits Management System, which slowed to a crawl last December. VBMS has been fielded to 18 VA regional claims processing offices and while “it is not as good as we would like it to be,” Baker said at least a system is in place and bugs are being worked out. It’s better than spending millions of dollars and fielding nothing.

I reported last week that Baker would officially leave his job tomorrow, March 1. That was wrong, as he said today that Monday, March 11, will mark the first day he does not make the commute to VA headquarters in downtown Washington.

Baker said he has no immediate plans, but hinted that if another Democrat is elected in 2016 he might be ready then for another federal job.