Congress scrutinizes VA finance system

Congress is launching several investigations into a Department of Veterans Affairs pilot computer project blamed for repeated surgery delays at one veterans' hospital.

Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said today that he has requested that the VA's inspector general investigate the agency's overhaul of its financial management system after learning that "multiple problems with implementation of the new system" forced the Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., to repeatedly postpone surgeries. Three other congressional committees also are looking into the matter.

"This is unacceptable, and I am at a loss as to why the department would choose the second busiest hospital in the nation for its test site," said Buyer, chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Buyer made his comments during a hearing to look into information technology programs at the VA, including the VA's Core Financial and Logistics System, known as CoreFLS.

BearingPoint Inc. is developing the $450 million financial management system in partnership with the VA, using strictly off-the-shelf products. Pilots are also being conducted at the VA's regional office in St. Louis and the National Cemetery Association's Florida National Cemetery at Bushnell, Fla.

But Rep. Michael Bilirakis (R-Fla.), another committee member, questioned why the system was being introduced at other facilities even though "we blew it at Bay Pines."

"Certainly, psychologically it may be a setback, said Robert Roswell, the VA's undersecretary for health. "It certainly points out the complexity of the health care system."

Robert McFarland, the VA's new chief information officer who also testified at the session, said there were no plans to terminate CoreFLS because it is a necessary component of the agency's modernization. At this point, he said, VA officials plan to continue developing the system after its problems are solved.

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