The Defense-VA-Vendor Conference Nobody Wants You to Know About

Press are prohibited from covering discussion of a multi-billion dollar health records system that will affect every service member.

An outfit called the Defense Strategies Institute will hold a conference in Alexandria, Va., May 15-16 on the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments’ planned integrated electronic health record featuring high ranking speakers from both departments. Any vendor who wants to attend can do so. But the media will be prohibited.

Why no press coverage of a discussion that affects every member of the military and millions of veterans?

Luis Hernandez, senior partner at New York City-based Defense Strategies told me yesterday that his company assured federal speakers ahead of time that the iEHR conference would be a media-free zone and that this in turn would help foster “dialogue” between government and industry.

As a skeptic, I have to wonder exactly what kind of “dialogue” is helped by not having the press present, even though I understand my presence at the conference may equal that of the proverbial skunk at the garden party.

Hernandez also told me that I probably would not be interested in covering the conference as a lot of it would be down into the technical “weeds” -- a topic I told him I’m especially interested in. In fact, if I got any deeper into the iEHR technical weeds, I’d be a digital dandelion.

Based on the speaker list and agenda and the fact that so many vendors have signed up they will be stashed in an overflow room, I have a hunch the conference will focus on far more than just technical weeds. It has attracted vendors because of the billions of dollars at stake.

Top speakers include Barclay Butler, director of the Defense-VA iEHR Interagency Program Office; Robert Petzel, VA Under Secretary for Health; Dr. Karen Guice, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense; Air Force Maj. Gen. Douglas Robb, nominated last week to head the new Defense Health Agency; and a whole bunch of other speakers from the IPO, Defense and VA.

This is an event that begs for coverage, particularly since Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on April 16  he has taken on personal responsibility for the iEHR.

I have asked both Defense and VA to furnish me with their policies on providing speakers to conferences barred to the media and designed to foster “dialogue” with vendors, but have not heard back.

This is a free country and I guess that means high ranking federal officials can engage with industry in a media-free event. But, this sure does not pass the smell test.