Senate confirms deputy secretary at VA

Tanya Bradsher, who was confirmed Tuesday as deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, delivers remarks at the 24th Annual Women in Military Service Wreath Laying Ceremony.

Tanya Bradsher, who was confirmed Tuesday as deputy secretary of Veterans Affairs, delivers remarks at the 24th Annual Women in Military Service Wreath Laying Ceremony. Robert Turtil/VA

Tanya Bradsher takes over as the top official tasked with managing the Department of Veterans Affairs’ troubled electronic health record project.

The Senate confirmed Tanya Bradsher on Tuesday to serve as the second ranking official at the Department of Veterans Affairs by a vote of 50-46.

As deputy secretary, Bradsher is the top official in charge of the VA's Electronic Health Records Modernization program, a decade-long effort to replace the agency's homegrown VistA health records system with a commercial one fielded by Oracle-Cerner that is in use at the Department of Defense.

Bradsher, who served 20 years in the Army, had been serving as VA's chief of staff when she was nominated for the number two job in April. She becomes the first woman and first woman of color to serve as the Senate-confirmed VA's deputy secretary.

"Now more than ever, the department needs a strong second-in-command to uphold its mission to deliver veterans the health care and benefits they have earned, and having a confirmed leader in this role better ensures we can hold VA accountable," Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mt., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, said on the Senate floor in remarks urging support for Bradsher's nomination.

At her confirmation hearing in May, Bradsher acknowledged the problems of the multibillion dollar software refresh. New deployments are currently paused, while implementation, training and help desk issues are worked out at a handful of sites where the Oracle-Cerner system is currently operational. She also touted the revised contract terms that altered the period of performance and adjusted penalties for not hitting uptime benchmarks and other goals.

"The original contract was a five-year contract. So, we didn't have the ability to bring Cerner — or now Oracle Cerner — back to the drawing board until every five years. The changes that they made… is to have five one-year contracts," Bradsher told lawmakers. "So every year we can hold Oracle Cerner accountable. Second, the penalties are now 30 times greater for outages…So we have the ability to hold Oracle-Cerner accountable in ways that the previous contract did not."

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, had put a hold on Bradsher's nomination, complaining that she stonewalled his efforts to pursue a whistleblower investigation into the possibility of personal health information on veterans leaking via access to the VA's Integrated Enterprise Workflow Solution application, which allegedly gives administrative personnel access to clinical information.

"Both the VA and Ms. Bradsher in her current role as chief of staff have shown repeated indifference to congressional oversight," Grassley said in a statement on Sept. 7 urging colleagues to vote no on the nomination.

CORRECTION: This story was updated to reflect that Tanya Bradsher is the first woman to serve as Senate-confirmed deputy secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Pamela Powers served as VA's acting deputy secretary between April 2020 and January 2021.

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