VA to slow IT budget growth

The Department of Veterans Affairs is planning to slow the growth of the agency's $1.4 billion information technology budget beginning in fiscal 2004 as part of a mandate from the executive branch to spend IT dollars more wisely.

With new orders in place to centralize and control the department's IT spending, Chief Information Officer John Gauss said the VA has submitted a budget proposal that would slow the spending growth by about 60 percent.

"We plan on dramatically cutting the growth of increase for the IT budget in [fiscal] '04, '05 and '06. There will still be growth, but I'm slowing the rate of growth," Gauss said in an interview today. Hypothetically, if the IT budget normally would grow by 10 percent, the growth would be cut to 4 percent.

Gauss said he expected to achieve major savings by using voice over IP for major facilities on the data network and regionalizing computer processing, such as office automation. He also plans to regionalize portions of the VA's Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration IT operations.

Last August, VA Secretary Anthony Principi ordered IT budget and management functions to be consolidated in Gauss' office to get control of the budget. Until then, each VA division, such as hospitals and cemeteries, had control over its own budget and independently decided how to spend money. But Principi's order was expected to generate savings as a result of the centralization.

The VA has had a number of successes this year in turning itself from a business-centric operation to a veterans-centric one, Gauss told the Washington, D.C., chapter of the AFCEA International at a luncheon gathering today.

He said the VA also has installed antivirus technology across the department — one of the world's largest deployments of antivirus technology — and is working on a networkwide security pilot project.

Gauss said the impasse over the fiscal 2003 budget that called for a 12.6 percent increase in IT spending at the VA has delayed work on at least two projects:

* Linking Pentagon medical databases for exiting servicemen and women to the VA's medical databases.

* A one-stop shopping system for veterans to make one phone call and get information on any program they need.

"They are still proceeding with preliminary planning. I'm on the verge of needing to spend some money," Gauss said.

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