Lawmakers Irritated with VA's Continuing Tech Problems

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

With its history of failed large-scale IT projects that cost taxpayers billions of dollars, VA is again grappling with IT issues.

The 115th Congress hauled in leadership from the Veterans Affairs Department to discuss what’s become a very old problem for the agency tasked with taking care of those who served: information technology.

VA, with its history of failed large-scale IT projects that cost taxpayers billions of dollars, is again grappling with IT issues. This time, it isn’t a single program bleeding taxpayer dollars that is troubling Congress. Rather, it’s the agency’s aging IT systems, two of which are more than 50 years old, according to testimony from Dave Powner, director of IT management issues for the Government Accountability Office.

The age of some of VA’s oldest systems and its disproportionate spending on legacy technology clearly bothered several members of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.

» Get the best federal technology news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

“It appears 86 percent of the money in IT is used for maintaining systems,” said Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., who pressed VA Chief Information Officer Rob Thomas about what industry best practices for legacy spending were. Earlier, Powner had revealed that only about $400 million of the over $4 billion VA spends annually on IT is used to research and develop new systems.

“Our numbers are out of kilter from industry; we’d like to see 60 percent on maintenance and 40 percent on development,” Thomas said. “Right now, we’re turning at 85 to 90 percent sustainment, and we have to shrink that.”

Thomas told the committee VA stood up a modernization effort last year aiming to decommission old systems, close data centers and attempt to make a dent in the agency’s legacy spending. Thomas said that effort could help lead VA toward a buy-over-build approach to IT, which he himself supports.

Roe said the push for commercial-off-the-shelf solutions is encouraging, but tempered his enthusiasm. Congress has increased VA’s appropriations for IT an average of 7 percent over the past five years with little to show for it. While the Defense Department opted to go commercial for its electronic health records system two years ago, VA still grapples with whether to build its own system or follow DOD.

“My fear is that I’ve been sitting here eight years, listening to how it will get better, and I realize we have a lot of good, smart people working on this, and it’s obviously not easy,” Roe said. “But there are a lot of COTS products that can do scheduling and billing.”

Roe also voiced disgust at VA’s failed $5.3 million cloud migration contract.

“That money could have paid for so many other things,” Roe said. “Like 70 entry-level nurses in Johnson, Tennessee.”

VA’s consolidation of data centers is generally behind the rest of government. Despite being the fourth largest IT spender among all agencies, VA has closed only 20 of its 356 data centers, ranking 19th out of the 24 agencies GAO studied.

Powner said VA’s reported data center savings of $15 million since fiscal 2011 are pennies compared to the $2.8 billion other agencies saved collectively over the same period. VA also has yet to meet any metrics established by the Office of Management and Budget. To better keep tabs on progress at VA, Powner recommended the committee call VA personnel to Capitol Hill for quarterly updates. The committee agreed.

“We need to have clear transparency on what progress is being made, and when the goal posts change,” said Powner, referring to schedule slippages that are apt to occur in large software projects.

Thomas said VA has many large IT decisions to make in the near future, beginning as soon as President Donald Trump’s nominee for VA secretary, David Shulkin, is confirmed. Chief will be determining whether VA will transition to a commercial electronic health records system, though when pressed, Thomas said he had no idea how long it might take.

DOD is beginning pilots of its new EHR system, but its $9 billion contract was awarded almost two years ago. Acquisitions of that scale take time, and VA would be reluctant to cut corners given the scrutiny it is under.

Ranking member Tim Walz, D-Minn., said he wouldn’t suffer another decade of health records issues between VA and the  Defense Department, and was disappointed to learn—from Powner—there still isn’t a seamless transition of health data for troops who transition to veterans. He called on Congress to demand interoperability between VA and DOD.

“I have to tell you, I cannot talk to a veteran and justify why we’re going to spend countless dollars for two systems that do not communicate and do not improve veterans’ experience,” Walz said. “We need to demand interoperability for one system and be responsible. Ten more years of it, I can’t stand it.”

If VA were to transition to a commercial EHR system, Thomas said the department would not necessarily have to use the same Leidos- and Cerner-developed system the Pentagon uses. Other commercial platforms should be interoperable, he said.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.