Congress Calls Coast Guard's Health Records System A 'Five-Year Epic Failure'

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. Carolyn Kaster/AP File Photo

The modernization project went over budget and didn't yield any reusable software or equipment.

The Coast Guard is still shelling out millions for an electronic health records system that went $46 million over budget and was canceled two years ago, a congressional watchdog found.

Lawmakers were so appalled by the mismanagement, they threatened to force the Coast Guard to adopt the system the Defense Department is rolling out rather than let the agency try again.

With an original price-tag of $14 million over five years, the Integrated Health Information System cost the Coast Guard roughly $60 million before it was canned in 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office. The agency also paid out an additional $6.6 million in contract obligations after terminating the ill-fated project, investigators found.

Lawmakers grilled Coast Guard officials Tuesday at a House Transportation Subcommittee hearing about the underlying causes of the “five-year epic failure” and the steps being taken to ensure the agency’s next modernization attempt ends with a better outcome.

“IHIS was kind of a watershed event—it shook our foundations,” said Rear Admiral Michael Haycock, the Coast Guard’s assistant commandant for acquisition and chief acquisition officer. He said the agency is exploring alternative options for managing medical records, including the MHS Genesis platform being rolled out at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments, and should have an acquisition decision “probably by the end of February.”

Though they acknowledged the importance of following the formal acquisition process, lawmakers seemed perplexed as to why the agency would not choose a system deemed sufficient by the Pentagon and VA, which both serve more patients than Coast Guard.

“It’s a waste of money and time going to look at stuff when it exists now,” said Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif. “You guys don’t get to go off on your own and use taxpayer dollars because it’s fun. I’m of the mind to make you get on DOD’s thing, no matter what you think. We ought to just tell you to do it.”

“This is not that complicated,” said Ranking Member John Garamendi, D-Calif., who joined Hunter in pressing the Coast Guard to follow in the footsteps of the two larger agencies. “Electronic health records are now a standard in virtually every health system in the nation—some of this stuff is off the shelf.”

Despite the funds poured into the effort, IHIS yielded no reusable software or equipment, and forced the Coast Guard to revert to a system relying primarily on paper medical records, according to GAO.

The watchdog attributed the failure of IHIS to agency leadership’s absence from the development process. Despite creating four groups to oversee the project, the Coast Guard couldn’t prove it followed its own system development guidelines and it was not clear whether officials documented management and oversight actions in the first place, investigators found.

“While the Coast Guard chartered these various governance bodies for IHIS oversight, the agency could not provide evidence that the boards had ever been active in overseeing the project prior to its cancellation,” the report said.