Trump Picks Marine Vet To Take Over Veterans Affairs IT

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If confirmed, James Gfrerer would step into a difficult job, as IT is at the center of VA’s mandate to modernize.  

After more than a year and a half without official leadership, President Trump Friday nominated Marine Corps veteran James Gfrerer to be Veterans Affairs assistant secretary for information technology, also known as the agency’s chief information officer.

Gfrerer would join VA from the private sector, where since 2015 he has served as executive director of Ernst & Young’s risk and cybersecurity practice, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, Gfrerer’s career was largely in the public sector, with stints at the State Department and Defense Department, including the Marine Corps Information Operations Center.

Before that, Gfrerer spent more than 21 years in the Marine Corps.

The president nominated Gfrerer on Friday but he won’t be able to start the job right away; the VA CIO is one of a handful of federal IT leaders that require Senate confirmation.

If confirmed, Gfrerer picks up where another Ernst & Young alum left off. The last person confirmed to the job was LaVerne Council, who worked at the consulting firm before serving as CIO at Dell and Johnson & Johnson. Council left public service in early 2017, less than two years after joining VA.

Gfrerer inherits a difficult situation at VA—the agency has been plagued with scandals, many of which either have an IT component or include IT as a solution. Most recently, the agency signed a $10 billion electronic health record deal with Cerner, which would position VA to connect to the Defense Department’s budding Military Health System GENESIS. VA’s EHR journey has been beset with problems, spending more than $2 billion over 10 years without result.

The CIO’s office has been vacant for over a year, with two acting CIOs leaving the agency in the meantime. Rob Thomas, who stepped into the acting role after Council’s departure, left the department in September 2017. His replacement, Scott Blackburn, retired abruptly in April, shortly after his embattled boss, then-VA Secretary David Shulkin, was fired by Trump.