New VA chief vows to fix IT

Testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee

The head of the Department of Veterans Affairs has vowed to either fix or replace the agency's troubled information technology systems.

"I intend to reform the way VA uses information technology" to ensure that the department's policies and procedures comply with the Clinger-Cohen Act, VA Secretary Anthony Principi said. The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 established the basis for managing agency IT programs.

If the agency is spending money and is still not achieving its goals, "then something needs to be fixed," he told the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Principi is scrutinizing the Veterans Benefits Administration's Veterans Services Network (Vetsnet), which was designed to automate benefits delivery and replace its existing antiquated payment system. Vetsnet faces a make-or-break review, the VA secretary said. The system will either receive a clean bill of health from an independent review or be killed.

"We will not throw good money after bad. If this current version of Vetsnet doesn't meet our needs for the next several years, we will terminate its development." If necessary, the agency will develop a plan to extend the life of the current systems and begin the development of a replacement system, he said.

As of last year, the VA had spent at least $100 million on Vetsnet and related projects, according to a May 2000 report by the General Accounting Office, but there has been "no measurable improvement in service to veterans."

Principi had a similar assessment. "Vetsnet has been under development for far too long." He said the program has suffered from a lack of focus and an absence of clear goals.

In the hope of avoiding future troubled systems, Principi said he has put a hold on any new IT spending until the agency defines an enterprise architecture that ends stovepipe systems and incompatible systems development issues. That process will be completed within months, he said.

Dorobek is a freelance writer based in Arlington, Va.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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