VA, DOD Hiring Executives To Lead Billion-Dollar Electronic Health Records Overhaul

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The jobs entail coordinating between two of the largest bureaucracies in government through one of the most difficult technology transitions to date.

The Veterans Affairs and Defense departments are well along the road to deploying separate but connected electronic health records systems. However, years into the effort, the congressionally-mandated coordination office has yet to be staffed up.

That could change in the near future, as the agencies have posted job openings for director and deputy director of the Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization, or FEHRM, program office, based in Rosslyn, Virginia. The program office will oversee VA’s 10-year, $10 billion transition to the Cerner Millennium platform and ensure the system is seamlessly interoperable with the Defense Department’s MHS GENESIS platform, also being developed by Cerner.

The program office will also manage integration with the Coast Guard, which decided in April 2018 to adopt the MHS GENESIS platform.

“Integrating patient data between VA and DoD is one of the nation’s most transformational healthcare initiatives,” Darren Sherrard, associate director of recruitment and marketing at VA, said in the job announcement. “These leaders will be central to the success of this effort, which will make it easier to provide seamless, quality care to service members and veterans.”

The position calls for experienced executives able to manage complex processes and bureaucracies; weedy, technical challenges; and a diverse staff spread across multiple functional areas, program and federal agencies.

Prospective candidates must be able to obtain and maintain a top secret clearance.

While the challenge will be substantial, the government is offering some additional perks to sweeten the deal, including:

  • A sign-on bonus.
  • A total of 49 days paid time off per year.
  • Federal health, dental, vision, life and long-term-care insurance.
  • A robust federal retirement package including a defined benefit plan (pension) after only five years of vesting and a 401(k)-type plan with up to 5% in employer contributions.

The FEHRM program office was created to replace the Interagency Program Office, which fell out of favor after VA spent more than $1 billion over six years without producing a usable, interoperable system.

Lawmakers have lauded the idea of FEHRM but noted as recently as June that it is far from becoming a reality, even as DOD and VA move forward with their individual system rollouts.

To date, the Defense Department has transitioned four medical facilities to its MHS GENESIS platform as part of the initial operating capability tests. The department learned some hard lessons through those tests, which officials say will lead to a much better rollout with the first full deployment wave, scheduled for Sept. 7.

The VA recently migrated the highest priority and most clinically relevant data for 23.5 million veterans—some 78 billion bits of data—to a Cerner data center shared with the Defense Department.

The FEHRM office’s management will be split between the two departments. While both positions will report directly to the deputy secretary of Defense and deputy secretary of the VA, the FEHRM director is allocated to the Defense Department while the deputy director technically sits within the VA.