Pentagon to outsource three medical help desks

Officials at the Defense Department's Military Health System believe they can save $30 million annually by outsourcing help desks at three medical sites, part of their initiative to bring together health providers at the military services.

MHS spends about $300 million each year to support its information technology systems, said Army Col. Carl Hendricks, MHS' program executive officer for IT. MHS officials must cut 10 percent by fiscal 2002, following a 1999 Defense Department directive, he said.

"We are trying to do more to control IT costs," Hendricks said. They would have eventually "absorbed all [system] development costs," he said. MHS has an overall $517 million IT budget for fiscal 2001, he said.

The Tri-Services Medical Systems Support Center at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, is the first help desk to go. MHS officials also are eliminating overlapping functions at the Naval Medical Information Management Center in Bethesda, Md., and the Army Medical Information System Support Activity at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. The latter two sites have 86 people working in program IT, Hendricks said.

"We've been losing people every day," said Air Force Lt. Col. Don Perro, the program manager at the Brooks support center. He cited help-desk calls that total 5,200 a month.

Health system users are worried "about future support" after the Brooks help desk closes, something that could occur by September, Perro said. The fee-for-service organization has 73 workers, he said.

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