VA reorg could further centralize IT

Modified shutterstock image: Department of Veterans Affairs, working gears.

Among the big changes the Department of Veterans Affairs is likely to unveil next week could be a plan to create a more centralized structure for the Veterans Health Administration, according to former VA staff and contractors interviewed by FCW.

The "Road to Veterans Day" initiative, the review of department practices and policies by Secretary Robert McDonald, promises improvements to customer service, and a vet-focused organizational structure called "My VA." The goals are to rebuild trust, improve service delivery, and set a course for long term reforms.

President Barack Obama met with McDonald and his deputy, Sloan Gibson, in the White House on Nov. 5 to discuss improving management at VA, implementation of the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, and strengthening the VA's health care system. McDonald also discussed the Road to Veterans Day plan, according to the White House readout of the meeting.

Among other things, the VA is looking at the possibility of reorganizing VA "along common regional services boundaries with an integrated controls structure," per the VA document. What this might mean, former VA staff and contractors told FCW, is an organizational shakeup that does away with the Veterans Health Administration's structure of 23 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) and reorganizes around 14 or so regional offices in a bid to centralize authority. Each of the proposed regions would be led by a senior executive who reports directly to the Office of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. (Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who will likely chair the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in the next Congress, has proposed legislation streamlining the VISN structure into 12 regional organizations.)

Veterans Integrated Service Networks

Sources tell FCW that the VA's planned reorganization could replace the 23 Veterans Integrated Service Networks with a smaller number of regional offices.

One contractor familiar with VA plans suggested to FCW that McDonald could further centralize authority by shifting the appointed political leadership away from day-to-day management, and toward functioning more as a policymaking council.

Sources also said that acquisition for the large VA components will be more centralized under the Office of Acquisitions and Logistics. While IT procurement and design is already quite centralized under the Office of Information and Technology, sources say that telemedicine IT and app development at VHA will be rolled up under the OI&T as well.

A VA spokesperson would say only that any announcements will be coming on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

That reorganization is coming should not surprise most VA watchers. McDonald released a directive on Aug. 26, less than a month after being confirmed to his office, revising and updating agency policy on organizational changes.

There's only so much that can be done without the help of Congress, however. There are dedicated appropriations in place for the components of the VA as it is currently organized, and McDonald's directive makes allowances for the timely notification of oversight committees in Congress when required. A Capitol Hill staffer told FCW that the VA has not given word of any such plans to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. A Senate staffer did not respond to FCW's request for comment.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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