Report helps HealtheVet, VA says

Uncovering problems facing the ambitious HealtheVet IT project has been a good thing, said Robert McFarland, VA's chief information officer.

A study that found numerous problems with a massive technology project at the Department of Veterans Affairs is good for the department, the VA's top technology official said today.

"This is positive," McFarland said in a telephone interview with Federal Computer Week. "This is good news that the VA is taking the time and energy to look at large scale programs upfront instead of after it becomes a disaster.… I'm happy we found these holes."

A Carnegie Mellon study, commissioned by the VA, outlined many problems for HealtheVet, the department’s nationwide computer modernization program for 5 million veterans in the VA’s health care system.

"What we tried to do is be proactive by getting experts to come in and look at this large proposal and look at where our holes are," McFarland said. "It showed us the holes. It showed us the risks,...[and] a lot of things we [can] now go and fix before we move forward."

HealtheVet, which would build on the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture program, is expected to cost billions of dollars. The Carnegie Mellon report described the project as a highly risky undertaking with inadequate planning.

"Current plans are not realistic given the complexity and magnitude of [HealtheVet] and the VA's ability to carry them out," the report stated.

VA officials sponsored the report because they sought independent validation and verification of the program to avoid another failure, such as the Core Financial and Logistics System, McFarland said. After spending $372 million, VA officials cancelled the financial management project because it was unworkable.

McFarland said he intended to conduct the same kind of review on other pending information technology projects within the VA to identify the problems before they occur. The CIO said he plans to meet with staff of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to explain the report and the VA's plans to fix HealtheVet’s problems.

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