VA must address IT strategy

With no chief information officer and a security system on the verge of disaster, the Department of Veterans Affairs has plenty of work to do, the General Accounting Office said in a report released Jan. 17.

In its Performance and Accountability Series report on the VA, GAO stated that the department is "struggling with how to integrate complex technologies and management processes so that they are aligned with VA's missions."

Among the problems GAO reported:

The VA has completed only the technical component of its information technology architecture. The VA has no uniform mechanism for tracking IT expenditures. The VA needs to improve its computer security immediately. Flaws in VA systems "have placed financial, health care and benefits payment information at risk of misuse, fraud, improper disclosure or destruction—possibly occurring without detection," according to the report.

However, the report noted that some VA systems are exemplary, such as those incorporating the use of bar code technology to prevent medical errors. But a lack of data and decentralization makes it hard for the VA to even calculate its workload and expenditure statistics.

The VA must carry out an IT strategy that can enable the department to produce "reliable performance and workload data, as well as safeguard financial, health care and benefits payment information," GAO found.

The VA has been without a permanent CIO since the middle of last year. President Clinton nominated Edward Meagher to the post, but he was never confirmed. Now it's up to the Bush administration to fill the position.

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