GAO: Better management needed for e-health project

GAO says DOD and VA are making progress on interoperability, but management improvements are needed

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments have made progress in meeting a Sept. 30 deadline for having interoperable electronic health record systems, according to the Government Accountability Office. However, GAO said the interagency office that oversees the program needs to improve its capabilities.

In a recent study, GAO investigators found that although the departments have made progress in creating the DOD/VA Interagency Program Office, that office is not effectively positioned to be accountable for the project. The study, conducted from April to July, showed that the office isn’t executing key information technology management responsibilities for planning, scheduling and measuring the project's performance.

In a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, Valerie Melvin, GAO’s director of information management and human capital issues, summarized the findings of GAO’s upcoming report on the study.

The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2008 directed DOD and VA to jointly develop EHR systems or capabilities that are fully interoperable with each other by the end of fiscal 2009. The law also established the interagency program office.

As part of putting the program in place, a group of clinicians from VA and DOD established six interoperability objectives:

  • Sharing histories captured in DOD electronic records.
  • Sharing physical exam data.
  • Demonstrating secure and expanded bandwidth for sharing health information.
  • Exchanging all periodic DOD health assessment data.
  • Expanding DOD’s inpatient medical records system.
  • Demonstrating DOD’s initial capability to scan service members’ medical documents.

GAO said the first three goals had been met, but the departments have only partially achieved their objectives for exchanging health assessment data, expanding DOD’s inpatient system and demonstrating initial document-scanning capabilities.

In addition, GAO said, VA and DOD have not made enough progress in establishing the IT management capabilities that are the specific responsibility of the interagency program office.

"Although the departments have generally made progress toward making the program office operational, the absence of performance metrics, and a complete integrated master schedule and a project plan, limits the office’s ability to effectively manage and provide meaningful progress reporting on the delivery of interoperable capabilities that are deemed critical to improving the quality of health care for our nation’s veterans,” Melvin said.

Meanwhile, in prepared remarks, the interagency program office’s acting director, Navy Rear Adm. Gregory Timberlake, said that although much progress had been made, key challenges remain. Specifically, he said the program needed to:

  • Develop, adopt and mature standards nationally to ensure efficient operational use.
  • Update capabilities, systems, infrastructure and technology in a manner consistent with emerging standards.
  • Identify and prioritize information requirements for sequential upgrade to new technologies.

However, Timberlake said that in spite of those challenges, the interagency program office and the departments are on track to achieve full interoperability, as defined by senior clinical leaders from each department, by the Sept. 30 deadline.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

The 2015 Federal 100

Meet 100 women and men who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image (by venimo): e-learning concept image, digital content and online webinar icons.

    Can MOOCs make the grade for federal training?

    Massive open online courses can offer specialized IT instruction on a flexible schedule and on the cheap. That may not always mesh with government's preference for structure and certification, however.

  • Shutterstock image (by edel): graduation cap and diploma.

    Cybersecurity: 6 schools with the right stuff

    The federal government craves more cybersecurity professionals. These six schools are helping meet that demand.

  • Rick Holgate

    Holgate to depart ATF

    Former ACT president will take a job with Gartner, follow his spouse to Vienna, Austria.

  • Are VA techies slacking off on Yammer?

    A new IG report cites security and productivity concerns associated with employees' use of the popular online collaboration tool.

  • Shutterstock image: digital fingerprint, cyber crime.

    Exclusive: The OPM breach details you haven't seen

    An official timeline of the Office of Personnel Management breach obtained by FCW pinpoints the hackers’ calibrated extraction of data, and the government's step-by-step response.

  • Stephen Warren

    Deputy CIO Warren exits VA

    The onetime acting CIO at Veterans Affairs will be taking over CIO duties at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

  • Shutterstock image: monitoring factors of healthcare.

    DOD awards massive health records contract

    Leidos, Accenture and Cerner pull off an unexpected win of the multi-billion-dollar Defense Healthcare Management System Modernization contract, beating out the presumptive health-records leader.

  • Sweating the OPM data breach -- Illustration by Dragutin Cvijanovic

    Sweating the stolen data

    Millions of background-check records were compromised, OPM now says. Here's the jaw-dropping range of personal data that was exposed.

  • FCW magazine

    Let's talk about Alliant 2

    The General Services Administration is going to great lengths to gather feedback on its IT services GWAC. Will it make for a better acquisition vehicle?

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 16, 2009 Joe Blow DC

Come on. This is scam intended to suck resources into supporting the failed and useless AHLTA. Cancel the program, fire Tommy Morris, Ellen Embrey, Claude Hines, and Eric Schoomaker. Move everybody to VISTA. It maybe old and basically outdated but it works. Spare the tapayers the headache and expense of covering up DoDs negligence and incompetence.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above