Officials labor over VA stovepipes

For the second week in a row, two dozen information technology officials are huddled in Potomac, Md., trying to figure out how to streamline the aging and complicated computer systems at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Facing a mid-August deadline, the department's IT experts are gathering Thursday, today and Saturday at the U.S. Postal Service's training center, working overtime to develop an enterprise architecture plan that would eliminate the VA's notorious stovepipes.

"We know it's a large problem, and we're not going to be able to change everything overnight," Guy McMichael, acting chief information officer at the VA, said at a forum Wednesday sponsored by the Industry Advisory Council.

VA Secretary Anthony Principi has ordered IT officials to come up with a plan by Aug. 14 that would simplify the VA's systems and eliminate the multiple steps that veterans are forced to take when they transfer from one system to another.

Although the VA has made some progress in standardizing operations, it still has a long way to go, according to McMichael and others. Veterans must fill out forms every time they interact with various parts of the system because there is no centralized way to keep track of the data. When veterans move from one place to another, they must fill out forms again and again. And there is no way to tap into a databank at a previous location.

McMichael said no one is putting a price tag on how much the modernization plan would cost, but he said, "We could all use more money.... We have to have a clear sense of how we are going to spend the money."

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