Veterans Affairs

Council makes her case to take over tech at VA

LaVerne Horton Council

LaVerne H. Council is President Barack Obama's nominee to be CIO for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

LaVerne H. Council, the private-sector IT consultant and former Fortune 50 CIO who is President Barack Obama's pick to take over the Office of Information and Technology at the Department of Veterans Affairs, told lawmakers May 5 how she planned to manage the VA's technology team and its $4.2 billion in annual tech spending.

Senators on the Veterans Affairs Committee were eager for details and a timeline on plans to guarantee a seamless transition of health data between the departments of Defense and VA, as service members move into retirement.

"There have been perennial criticisms of the lack of seamless interoperability between the VA and the Department of Defense," said Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal. "I have sat at this table for a number of years, and we've heard a lot about plans and blueprints and roadmaps, and the problem, as you observe, continues to this day."

The VA faces data integration challenges between its open source VistA system and the two major DOD electronic health record systems currently in use, and the future challenge of integrating with the consolidated system the Pentagon is in the process of procuring. A decision on that $11 billion procurement is expected in June.

Council said the answer is data. "It's not necessarily interoperability of the systems, it's interoperability of the data. This will be the first thing to go after," she said. "One of the reasons I think I was called for this job is because of my reputation of being able to do what I said I will do."

Like VA Secretary Bob McDonald, who was CEO of Procter & Gamble, Council has a deep background in corporate America. She was the first global CIO in the history of Johnson & Johnson, unifying tech operations for 250 subsidiaries across 57 countries.

Council told FCW that she suspects the job offer came at the suggestion of former Procter & Gamble CIO Filippo Passerini, whom McDonald has frequently named as one of his closest collaborators during his time at the consumer goods company. Passerini "knows I like hairy problems," she said. "But I also like to support a team that wants to win, and I think that's what we have here. I think with the right opportunity, everyone might be surprised."

The VA is unusual among cabinet departments in that its top technology official is subject to Senate confirmation. The position has been filled on an acting basis by career IT executive Steph Warren since Roger Baker resigned from the assistant secretary post in March 2013.

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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