IG faults VA for mismanagement of IT project

Failure blamed on 'systemic' IT bungling

 The Veterans Affairs Department’s systemic management shortcomings are to blame for the failure of its Replacement Scheduling Applications development program, according to a new report from the department’s Office of the Inspector General.

VA started the project n 2001 but shut it down in March 2009 after spending more than $120 million without producing deployable scheduling software. The goal had been to develop a new system for patient scheduling.

VA executives did not conduct appropriate program and requirements planning, allowed requirements to shift several times, and conducted inadequate procurement oversight, according to Mark Myers, Division A director for the inspector general’s Office of Contract Review.

Compounding those problems was a lack of management expertise in handling major information technology programs in general and a change of leadership for the project four times between 2000 and 2009, Myers wrote in the report, issued Aug. 26.

Overall, Myers said the VA's management issues were more to blame than acquisition oversight.

“Although procurement oversight was lacking, the failure of the RSA Development Program was not primarily rooted in contracting issues; rather, it was due to issues surrounding VA’s management of the RSA program and the manner in which VA manages major IT initiatives, in general,” Myers concluded.

“In our opinion the failure of the RSA project is linked to larger systemic problems relating to the management and implementation of IT projects within VA,” Myers wrote.

The HealtheVet initiative also complicated the software development for the patient scheduling project and contributed to delays and changes in project direction and requirements, the report said.

The replacement scheduling project was at risk from the beginning, and when VA officials became aware of the problems, they utilized an interagency agreement with the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in 2007, the report said. However, the VA did not perform adequate oversight over the work being done by SPAWAR and has difficulty identifying exactly what SPAWAR had done and who had done it, the IG report said.

The IG's report did not contain a response from VA officials, and department officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

The inspector general recently reported on poor ethics practices and breaches of authority at the VA's IT office.


About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Thu, Sep 3, 2009

I know a lot about the VA and I can tell you it is a culture filled with nepotism, laziness and passing the buck. They routinely promote incompetent, passive people to leadership positions. The failure of leadership that has occured there over the last 15 - 20 years is criminal, and I agree with the other posting stating that multiple people should be prosecuted for gross dereliction of duty. The VA is a cozy little country club of people with a tacit understanding that they will keep each other's secrets. I would like to add, however, that there are also many smart, hard-working people in the VA IT department - but they are fighting a tidal wave of bureaucratic stagnation and arrogance.

Wed, Sep 2, 2009

I have some knowledge of RSA and HeV and agree with this report and all the comments here. My question, why didn't the IG do this report 6 years ago when it might have had the affect of getting the program back on track?

Tue, Sep 1, 2009 Peter G. Tuttle, CPCM

Reports like the VA OIG one referenced in the article further reinforce the basic need for federal agencies to maintain many "core" competencies and skills in-house. Outsourcing responsibilities to other agencies (SPAWAR in this example) or contractors will not help solve the challenges of effective requirements development, program management, contract management and oversight. Many times outsourcing - as we see here - makes the problems worse and further removes agency decision-makers and leaders from where they need to be in order to fix those problems.

Tue, Sep 1, 2009

And who is being held accountable? It's not enough to say: "The Veterans Affairs Department’s systemic management shortcomings are to blame ..." without also saying: "...and these executives will be prosecuted for gross dereliction of duty, fraud, incompetence, (fill in the blanks)". Who, in fact, were these executives, and how will they be punished? Will anyone - government executive OR contractor - be held peculiarly liable? How do I get my $120 million in tax dollars returned? Fines? Jail time. Public lashings??? I'm sure the guilty parties have already quietly retired or slid (as in snakes) off to some other high-paying federal job to see how much time and money they can waste there. Do we even get the names? I doubt it!

Tue, Sep 1, 2009

When I was in the civ. world I worked for a company that had a working patient scheduling program. I'm sure it didn't cost $120. I could have sold them the package for say...80 mil and retired!

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