VA preps tech blueprint

The Department of Veterans Affairs plans to unveil its Enterprise Architecture blueprint in September, shaping the ground rules for a 21st century information technology system.

Although department officials could not provide details, an industry source estimated that similar agency overhauls have cost $400 million to $500 million.

"What we've seen with the VA is a lot of legacy systems that have been developed in a stovepipe manner," the source said.

The VA wants to "get to the point where every veteran can access the Internet," said John Gauss, the VA's new chief information officer.

The plan was a top priority of Secretary Anthony Principi. A team worked overtime to put it together by August.

The plan is expected to keep the systems that work departmentwide and eliminate the ones that do not. The goal is to save money and deliver better services. At the core is the mandate to "do your engineering before you go to production," Gauss said.

In deciding what works and what doesn't, officials will look at whether a system runs like an old-fashioned telephone switchboard — able to connect to any part of the VA. Some systems that don't meet that criterion will be cut, Gauss said, but others that are cost-efficient and service one office effectively may survive the ax.

For example, he said the plan calls for keeping the planned 2004 rollout of the core Financial and Logistics System. But he is setting up a task force to recommend ways to come up with a "one-VA telecom network."

"It takes money to save money," said Brian Burns, CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services. "You need upfront investment in order to gain improved efficiencies." He estimates HHS' new enterprise architecture plan will cost $75 million over three years but save the agency $342 million over five years.

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