Veterans Affairs

VA looks at cut in tech funding

Shutterstock image: medical professional interacting with a futuristic, digital interface. 

On the whole, the Departments of Veterans Affairs enjoys a $6.4 billion funding boost in President Donald Trump’s budget request.

Yet as the department plans to make critical IT decisions this summer, including a long-awaited decision on what to do with its homegrown Vista electronic health record system, the proposal would cut the department's IT spend.

While lawmakers raised concerns about this drop, VA Secretary David Shulkin is not alarmed.

"What I think you're seeing in this budget is a recognition that we do not want to continue to ask for more money and invest more money in fixing broken systems," Shulkin told the House Veterans Affairs Committee on May 24.

However, Shulkin made clear that all IT expenses are not yet accounted for.

"The one area we have not yet accounted for is the modernization of the IT system," he said. "We are not done with IT. We are going to need to come back to you after I announce the direction… to be able to talk to you about what really needs to be done in modernizing our IT systems."

Shulkin reiterated his plans to announce the department’s decision -- either to outsource the Vista software to a commercial provider or adopt off-the-shelf products -- before July 1.

Committee chairman Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), along with other members, again made clear the preference to move to commercial products.

"I cannot state too strongly the need for VA to invest wisely in IT programs and consider commercial off the shelf products that can be quickly put to use solving VA’s biggest problems," he said.

Shulkin said, "it makes sense to go with an off-the-shelf system, but for that, we're going to need additional support."

"We need Congress to fund our IT modernization, to keep our legacy systems from failing and to increase interoperability of electronic health records," he added.

Roe made clear, “I will continue to advocate for the resources VA needs.”

Shulkin added that the department plans to award its $6 million contract for the single pilot site of the commercial Medical Appointment Scheduling System "in the next two weeks" and begin a "much quicker rollout."

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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