VA head lays down IT law

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi made it clear last week that he's the boss when it comes to spending money on information technology.

In a memo to department staff, Principi said retired Rear Adm. John Gauss, the VA's new assistant secretary for information and technology and chief information officer, must approve all IT projects.

"Effective immediately, please advise your respective [CIO] that they will take their technology direction and guidance from the assistant secretary for information and technology," Principi said.

Principi said Gauss must "approve planning and technical documentation prior to expending funds for any [IT] program, project or initiatives."

Principi took his step after some VA officials tried to change the name of the troubled Veterans Benefits Administration's Veterans Services Network, an electronic benefits program, to the Corporate Enterprise Benefits Claims Process, according to sources. The move was seen as an attempt to keep funding for the project even while it was under review.

"This directive covers all information and technology projects within your organization," according to the memo.

"Right now, there is this feeling out there that "it's my money' in whatever program," said one VA official who declined to be identified. "It's not "their money.' It is department funding."

Gauss, who until recently served as commander of the Defense Department's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, is expected to start his job just days after an easy Senate confirmation process. He has been working at the VA as a contractor and has been involved with developing an enterprise architecture plan.

At his Aug. 2 confirmation hearing, Gauss told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that IT "offers a means to break down bureaucratic barriers" and that his top priorities include developing an enterprise architecture for the department, integrating telecommunications networks and creating a strong information security infrastructure.

"Because the technology is moving fast," Gauss said, "it is important to have a full understanding of the risks."

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