VA defends its IT recovery plans

As lawmakers question VA’s slowness to act, officials say they have a sound security plan

VA awards contracts

The Veterans Affairs Department has awarded several contracts and plans to award others, all of them geared to supporting its new information security strategies. They include contracts for:

  • Port security and device control. Awarded in September to Sword and Shield for $6.7 million, the contract includes licenses, maintenance and support for Sanctuary software for one year plus four option years.

  • Rights management services (RMS). Awarded in September to IBM for $5.2 million, the contract includes secure e-mail attachments for desktop PCs and RMS functionality for Research in Motion BlackBerry devices for one year plus two option years.

  • Host integration technology. Awarded in September to Merlin Technical Solutions for $13.4 million, the contract includes help for securing VA’s Internet communications and standardized terminal emulator technology.

  • Standard desktop lease. Awarded in August to Dell for $248.5 million for desktop PCs for five years, this contract also calls for Dell to test VA’s standard configuration for desktop PCs.

— Mary Mosquera

The Veterans Affairs Department has rejected a piecemeal approach to fixing its information technology security vulnerabilities, and, because of that, VA has moved slower than oversight officials want, said Robert Howard, VA’s chief information officer.

“You obviously have to get it done right away, but you need to think it through,” Howard said. “You need to properly test it.”
VA has begun implementing a comprehensive plan that includes awarding new contracts for security solutions, such as computer port monitoring, Howard said.

VA has been under fire for data security gaps since a 2006 breach exposed the sensitive data of millions of veterans. Lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office and VA’s Office of Inspector General have criticized the agency’s executives for their slow response to protecting sensitive data.

VA is implementing a comprehensive IT security plan at the same time it is reorganizing and centralizing its IT offices, Howard said. The IT reorganization, which should be completed in July 2008, will let VA apply uniform security policies, he said.

VA also is acquiring technology to reinforce its IT security policies and procedures, but it isn’t going to buy products piecemeal, said Charles De Sanno, associate deputy assistant secretary of infrastructure engineering in VA’s CIO office. De Sanno is also executive director of VA’s enterprise infrastructure engineering and northeast operations in New York.

Earlier this year, VA began evaluating product capability and interoperability in its New York region and testing products in the field.

“We’re trying to get it right,” De Sanno said. “We’re trying to have this ecosystem of products to secure the environment.”

De Sanno said he anticipates that VA will request proposals later this month or in early November for a data-protection contract, and it will make an award in early 2008. With that acquisition, he said, VA expects to begin enforcing policies such as whether to automatically allow large file transfers or request senders’ electronic signatures before authorizing access to certain data.

When VA shared its plans with lawmakers at a recent hearing, they expressed impatience with VA’s progress. One lawmaker, however, said IT security and centralization are complicated and cannot be completed overnight. “I am heartened by many of the steps the VA has undertaken but remain concerned that more should and could be done faster,” said Rep. Bob Filner (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

GAO officials said they have concerns about the slow pace of VA’s security improvements. VA has implemented only four of GAO’s 26 data security recommendations, said Valerie Melvin, director of human capital and management information systems issues at GAO.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

The Fed 100

Save the date for 28th annual Federal 100 Awards Gala.


  • computer network

    How Einstein changes the way government does business

    The Department of Commerce is revising its confidentiality agreement for statistical data survey respondents to reflect the fact that the Department of Homeland Security could see some of that data if it is captured by the Einstein system.

  • Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. Army photo by Monica King. Jan. 26, 2017.

    Mattis mulls consolidation in IT, cyber

    In a Feb. 17 memo, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told senior leadership to establish teams to look for duplication across the armed services in business operations, including in IT and cybersecurity.

  • Image from

    DHS vague on rules for election aid, say states

    State election officials had more questions than answers after a Department of Homeland Security presentation on the designation of election systems as critical U.S. infrastructure.

  • Org Chart Stock Art - Shutterstock

    How the hiring freeze targets millennials

    The government desperately needs younger talent to replace an aging workforce, and experts say that a freeze on hiring doesn't help.

  • Shutterstock image: healthcare digital interface.

    VA moves ahead with homegrown scheduling IT

    The Department of Veterans Affairs will test an internally developed scheduling module at primary care sites nationwide to see if it's ready to service the entire agency.

  • Shutterstock images (honglouwawa & 0beron): Bitcoin image overlay replaced with a dollar sign on a hardware circuit.

    MGT Act poised for a comeback

    After missing in the last Congress, drafters of a bill to encourage cloud adoption are looking for a new plan.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group