VA gives CIO power over budget

Pressured by Congress, a top official at the Department of Veterans Affairs told lawmakers Thursday that the agency would centralize control of its information technology budget in the chief information officer’s shop.

With the VA asking for an IT budget of $2.1 billion this year amid problems with IT programs nationwide, VA Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield said budget and security decisions would be centralized, and “changes will be communicated up and down the line so every employee understands what is to be done.” Responsibility for software applications will remain at individual VA facilities.

“There is an understanding that cultural change has to take place and buy-in must occur at the lower worker level,” Mansfield said.

Members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee agreed with Mansfield’s assessment.

Committee chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said the VA has not kept pace with “the reality of an ever-changing and growing era of technological advances.” Right now, Craig said, the VA is unable to meet 21st-century demands.

“The question confronting the committee is whether the VA should be directed through legislation on how to deal with its IT problems," said Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), the ranking Democrat on the panel.

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee completed legislation today to centralize control of IT spending in the CIO’s office and sent it to the House floor for action. Rep. Steven Buyer (R-Ind.) cited billions of dollars in wasteful spending and failed IT projects in the past 10 years.

Robert McFarland, the VA’s CIO, controls only $50 million in IT funding. The independence of VA operations among more than 160 hospitals has contributed to problems with controlling IT spending.

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