VA head cracks down on IT deals

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi has made it clear that there should be no doubt over who guides information technology spending at the department.

In a memo to VA 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 [CIOs] 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," Principi wrote in 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 last served as commander of the Defense Department's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, had an easy Senate confirmation hearing Aug. 2. He has been working at the VA as a contractor and has been involved with developing an enterprise architecture plan.

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