House boosts 2007 VA IT budget, but with strings

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Quality of Life and Veterans Affairs boosted the 2007 VA information technology budget to $1.3 billion, $89 million more than the 2006 funding and $45 million more than the VA request, in an appropriations bill passed last week.

But the subcommittee said none of these funds will be available until the agency submits a plan detailing how its systems meet the Office of Management and Budget’s capital planning guidelines. In addition, the systems must be developed to conform to enterprise architecture and established enterprise life cycle methodology, and they must comply with all federal acquisition guidelines.

The VA IT budget came under fire from Congress last year, which gave Robert McFarland, VA’s chief information officer at that time, control over the agency’s IT budget.

Last October Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said "lack of accountability in VA IT spending must stop. The structure in place lacks the authority and accountability to provide better service to veterans."

The subcommittee said it was concerned about the number of requests it continues to receive for procuring IT systems for the Military Health System (MHS).

Many of these requests, the House Appropriations Committee report stated, are for geographically localized systems to improve information sharing with the VA, consolidating and upgrading hardware, software packages for reviewing and auditing data, geographic information system tools, and other IT issues.

The report stated the committee would be reluctant to fund projects that are geographically localized or cannot be deployed DOD-wide in the future, and the committee directed the DOD MHS to include a detailed report on its IT needs in future budget submissions.

The House Appropriations Committee supported development of an MHS-focused Regional Health Information Organization with $400,000 in funding for a pilot RHIO at Fort Drum, New York.

The HAC report said it fully supported requested funding of $4.6 million for the DOD Medical Logistics Standard Support, an integrated medical logistics system and the Blood Standard Support, a key system used to manage blood supplies.

The report also detailed $3.5 million in funding for the Trauma Registry and Research Database and $1.5 million for provision of Internet connectivity at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center for use by recovering military employees wounded in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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