Veterans Affairs

VA chief swears off software development

David Shulkin USH VA 

VA Secretary David Shulkin wants the agency to get out of the software business.

For the past year or more at congressional hearings and public appearances, senior officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs have been warming up to the idea of moving to commercial software for electronic health records, scheduling, acquisitions and other core business processes.

At an evening hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee held March 7, VA chief Dr. David Shulkin made his most pointed commitment to date on the topic.

"I've come to the conclusion that VA building its own software products and doing its own software dev inside is not a good way to pursue this," Shulkin said. "We need to move toward commercially tested products."

This is the strongest indication yet that VA is going to move off of its homegrown electronic health record system, Vista, and adopt one of the commercial systems.

"We should focus on the things veterans need us to focus on and work with companies that know how to do [IT systems] better than we do," Shulkin said.

At the same time, he acknowledged that lawmakers have been down this road before with VA, and he urged them to stay aggressive in their oversight.

"I don't want you to stop worrying until we actually do something to give you confidence that we have this right," Shulkin said.

Randy Williamson, the lead on health care issues at the Government Accountability Office, noted that even with a commercial health records system, VA would face the challenge of integrating with Department of Defense systems and private hospital technology.

"It's not a slam dunk," Williamson said, but noted that he thought technology was "the number one issue" holding back VA.

Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.), whose questioning elicited Shulkin's statement, said that VA tech, "still feels like we're driving a Model-T down a L.A. freeway, trying to keep up with the Teslas and the BMWs."

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, health IT and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mr. Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian started his career as an arts reporter and critic, and has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, Architect magazine, and other publications. He was an editorial assistant and staff writer at the now-defunct New York Press and arts editor at the About.com online network in the 1990s, and was a weekly contributor of music and film reviews to the Washington Times from 2007 to 2014.

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


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Reader comments

Fri, Mar 24, 2017

Shulkin is a temp, soon after this fleecing of America is inked, they'll probably ask him to leave.

Tue, Mar 14, 2017 A Concerned Vet

I wish the new Secretary good luck with this. VA has custom-developed (GOTS) software buried all around the enterprise which is not managed by their CIO organization. It'll be tough to identify those items and really tough to wrest control away from the "owners" of the expensive-to-maintain and stale GOTS systems and place oversight in the hands of the CIO...who should manage all that in the first place.

Mon, Mar 13, 2017 Samuel Holcman

Dr. David Shulkin: I would caution your movement to commercial software, without recognizing that it ONLY reduces complexity if the software meets the VA requirements Exactly. Otherwise, purchasing commercial software, and then adding "tweaks" or "a few modifications" leads to increased complexity and maintenance. The reason for this, is that if you add external changes to the commercial software, you have three "changes" that have to be coordinated: (1) the commercial vendor software changes, (2) the "small" custom software" changes, and (3) the interface software that needs to be written and coordinated". I am not suggesting don't do this, but eyes wide open are really important here. Perhaps it is the way VA builds software that is the issue, and not going to commercial software that needs to be addressed. Respectfully, Sam Holcman - Sam@EACOE.org.

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