House shaves funding for Veterans Affairs IT projects

Seeing unspent IT funds and project delays, House appropriators plan to find other ways to use tax dollars

House appropriators plan to decrease funds for the Veterans Affairs Department’s IT  projects because of sluggish spending and project delays.

Committee members have proposed redirecting funds for IT projects because VA has received large amounts for IT funding in recent years and not spent it all. IT money would have remained unobligated at the end of fiscal 2010 and 2011, according to a report from the House Appropriations Committee on the fiscal 2011 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. 5822).

Despite the leftover money, President Barack Obama again asked for $3.307 billion for fiscal 2011, the same amount Congress gave him in 2010. However, the committee decided on $85 million less, according to the bill.

“While recognizing the need for the systems development efforts under way, we are disappointed that the work continues to fall behind schedule, leaving large unobligated balances,” Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), chairman of the House Appropriations Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said on July 20.

The House is scheduled to take up Edwards' appropriations bill July 27.

VA officials have worked to set up a new program management process, but they can’t spend the money fast enough and their projects continue to be caught up in delays, according to the report. The VA’s problems are reflected in the estimated $1.7 billion that is expected to be unobligated at the end of both fiscal 2010 and 2011.

“While the 2.6 percent funding reduction recommendation by the committee is not severe, it makes possible a modest reallocation of funding to areas of greater need in the department,” the report states. The legislation would require a report from VA officials on how they would spend the money. 

One area of greater need is the VA’s contracting workforce. Appropriators are recognizing the department’s need to bolster its acquisition workforce by proposing a 5 percent increase in funding for it.

“While VA contract funding has grown substantially since 2001, the capacity of the acquisition workforce has not kept pace, leading to increased risk of higher costs and unsuccessful contract outcomes,” appropriators wrote.

The bill would include $23.6 million to strengthen VA acquisition management. The funds would support the hiring of acquisition employees and invest in training and technology to help them manage the department’s money, the report states.

Overall, the appropriations bill includes $141.1 billion for fiscal 2011. The committee is proposing to make $120.8 billion available for the VA, 10.2 percent above the fiscal 2010 enacted level.

In the report, appropriators acknowledged that more veterans are seeking medical services from the VA , and “it is important to strengthen its tools to monitor spending as well as the skill and operating procedures of the VA workforce.”

 

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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