House appropriators look for clarity on VistA modernization
- By Aisha Chowdhry
- Mar 22, 2016
A draft appropriations bill would put some restrictions on funds to modernize the Department of Veterans Affairs until the agency gets a handle on its plans for electronic health records.
The fiscal 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act would provide $260 million for modernizing the EHR system at the VA, but a House Appropriations Committee staffer told FCW that the committee was fencing off funding for VistA until it receives clarity on whether the agency wants to update its homegrown system or choose an off-the-shelf solution, as the Defense Department has done. The committee is also looking for deliverables that are interoperable with DOD's current and future EHR systems.
"To help ensure our veterans get proper care through the timely and accurate exchange of medical data between the VA, DOD and the private sector, the bill includes language restricting funding until the VA has certified interoperability of the system with DOD and requires that the VA meet milestones regarding functionality and management," according to a statement released by the committee.
More details will be forthcoming in the committee report, the staffer said. The draft language specifies some of the restrictions: Just over $168 million will be made available for the VistA Evolution program "or any successor." Additionally, the committee is seeking business case documents, strategic plan information, timelines and life cycle cost estimates from the VA's Office of Information and Technology on the continuation of the VistA Evolution program or alternatives.
The move comes after a recent committee appearance by VA CIO LaVerne Council, during which she told lawmakers that it was time to take a step back from the planned modernization of VistA. "We have not made up our minds" about what to do about VistA, Council said at the time. She has continued to stress that the interoperability deadlines have not been affected by officials' review of the VistA Evolution program.
At the top level, Congress and the White House are not far apart when it comes to funding technology at the VA. The proposed legislation would allocate $4.22 billion to the Office of Information and Technology, while the Obama administration had sought about $4.27 billion. Overall, the draft legislation provides $81.6 billion in discretionary funding for the VA.
Aisha Chowdhry is a former staff writer for FCW.