VA realigning IT operations

Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi this week ordered the reorganization of information technology operations at VA headquarters, centralizing budget and management control in the office of chief information officer John Gauss.

Principi said he ordered the changes because the VA had been hampered in carrying out plans to create "one VA" as he pledged when he took office, and "time is running out."

"We have a lot of work to do," Principi told Federal Computer Week in a telephone interview today.

In a memo to key officers dated Aug. 6, Principi said, "Despite our best efforts, accountability for our IT resources remains elusive.... To get from where we are to where we need to be across all VA's IT programs, we must reorganize how VA's IT is managed and financed."

Principi said there has been resistance to embracing the agency's Enterprise Architecture plan. Implementing cybersecurity initiatives is lagging, and Gauss has not received IT budget exhibits to determine actual costs and "develop an integrated department IT portfolio."

Effective immediately, VA's IT functions and personnel will be realigned under Gauss and permanently reassigned effective Oct. 1. Gauss also will be in charge of VA's IT appropriations beginning Oct. 1.

The changes will affect the three CIOs within VA -- K. Adair Martinez, the CIO at the Veterans Benefits Administration; Gary Christopherson, the CIO at the Veterans Health Administration; and Joseph Nosari, CIO at the National Cemetery Administration. All three will become deputy CIOs reporting to Gauss.

"That is the kind of support and action that every CIO dreams of," said Roger Baker, the former CIO at the Commerce Department who tried to reorganize the CIO structure there. "It's real tangible demonstration that VA is very serious about getting much better at IT very quickly."

Although the changes won't have an immediate impact on operations of more than 150 VA hospitals, Gauss is convening a gathering in Austin, Texas, on Aug. 13 of nearly 300 VA IT representatives to discuss the new structure and develop a collaborative plan for more changes.

To keep the changes in perspective, Gauss said he sent out a memo to all IT personnel telling them that the changes were not about their jobs and that there would be "no job loss due to reorganization."

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