Senate Passes Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act

Sen. Jon Tester

Sen. Jon Tester Patrick Semansky/AP

The bill would require annual reports on projects that cost more than $25 million and affirm CIO authority in planning.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a long history of delivering high-impact IT projects later than expected and over-budget, though a bill that cleared the Senate Thursday aims to change that.

Introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., the Department of Veterans Affairs Technology Reform Act would force the agency to submit annual reports to both chambers of Congress on progress on IT projects that cost over $25 million with lifecycles of three years or more.

Reports would be submitted to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees within 120 days of the end of the previous fiscal year, and would require the agency lay out mitigation plans for each IT project described in the report. Such descriptions would include the functional and performance capabilities of the project, estimated lifecycle and operations and management costs and milestones to meet.

The bill further strengthens the chief information officer role within VA, ensuring that position is engaged in strategic planning, IT workforce issues, budgeting, investment management and emerging technologies.

The bill comes after VA delayed several high-impact IT projects due to coronavirus, the largest among them being the modernization of its electronic health records system.

VA has been working on a $16 billion contract with Cerner to provide a commercial health records system that will be interoperable with the Defense Department’s health records system. VA had planned to launch the Cerner Millennium platform at Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane, Washington in March, but issues materialized in February that delayed the effort until at least July. In April, when COVID-19 infections began to balloon nationwide, VA tabled the rollout indefinitely. 

The House has not yet taken up the bill. 

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