VA restructures IT budget

The Department of Veterans Affairs restructured its information technology budget this year after discovering that some projects had been charged to the wrong accounts and should have been counted elsewhere.

As a result, John Gauss, the department's chief information officer, said today that the VA's IT budgets for fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2004 more accurately reflect just how much money the department has and where it is being spent.

"We needed to re-baseline our entire portfolio and describe our projects in a way that people could understand them, and to properly account for all actual planned expenditures," Gauss said in a telephone interview.

As a result, the department's fiscal 2004 budget request of $1.47 billion for IT is about 4 percent higher than the newly revised fiscal 2003 budget of $1.41 billion, according to Gauss.

But in restructuring the budget portfolio, Gauss said he also realigned some functions, rolling together all VA data communications and services into one item instead of scattering them throughout the vast enterprise to get a bigger bang out of the federal buck.

"We better understand where the money is going, better understand where the 'gold' is to be mined as we go forward," Gauss said.

In the fiscal 2003 budget, for example, Gauss said budget experts found that some hospitals were charging mail clerks' payroll against the IT budget when it should have been charged against administration. Some computers were counted as general operating expenses when they should have been counted as IT.

Gauss said that freeing up money would enable the VA to go forward with some new electronic initiatives to give veterans better service.

Among them is increasing the coordination between the Defense Department and the VA when servicemen and women leave the military. A system now in the works would computerize and deposit medical data in a VA databank. About $8.5 million is earmarked in the fiscal 2004 budget for the project.

A second initiative would make it easier for a veteran to call a toll-free number to get any service or access a Web site to get information. The latter includes a control center, where a worker could take control of a user's pointer and fix the problem. About $10 million is earmarked in fiscal 2004 for the budget.

The VA also is working on an authentication and authorization project that may be tied to the e-government initiative on authorization.

"We will most likely get to a point where people are going to have to worry about two passwords—one to log on to the network and a single sign on to access the application," Gauss said.

The VA's strides in IT did not go unnoticed. It received excellent scores on the President's Management Agenda—all "green" for progress and "yellow" heading to "green" for e-government. The VA was one of the few agencies that did not get the unacceptable "red" score.

"The department developed an overarching enterprise architecture for all its information technology, successfully justified IT projects in the budgets and expanded its participation in e-gov initiatives," the scorecard noted. "VA not only submitted its 2004 budget on time but also completed a comprehensive budget restructuring."


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