Open Source

VA employees tap open source to solve workflow problems

Blue Signage and logo of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs  

Department of Veterans Affairs employees are taking it upon themselves to develop tech tools to improve their centers' business and operations.

Through the Light Electronic Action Framework, a VA-developed open source web application, employees from across the country built a range of applications and platforms aimed at improving hiring, business management, and employee training.

The idea behind the framework, the code for which has been around for years but has really taken off recently, is to give non-technical, on-the-ground employees the opportunity to address problems at their regional centers, explained the agency's Innovation Coordinator Blake Henderson.

Employees can access the LEAF launchpad within the VA firewall, and from there can request to create a site, which takes just minutes to stand up. To date, the LEAF library -- "a rudimentary app store," as Henderson described it -- hosts 72 shared forms uploaded by VA employees for use by anyone else with access to the site.

At the 2019 LEAF conference hosted in Arlington, Va. this week, VA employees from all over the country traveled to pitch their solutions, where they were assessed, and winners were awarded by a judging panel based on each presentation's business case and storytelling. In total, 10 teams pitched their projects and three winners – one from each of the topic areas: business management, employee onboarding and scheduling.

The winning project teams in each category represented VA health centers from Charleston, S.C., Nashville and Tampa Bay.

VA Chief Technology Officer Charles Worthington pointed out that a number of the projects sought to solve the similar business process problems, calling the ground-level work to mitigate these management problems "amazing."

Particularly when it comes to resource management and keeping track of data on funding and personnel, "it feels like this is a real pain point that everyone has," he said.

This year's LEAF conference also hosted a hackathon, where participants worked on similar projects, from improving human resources -- including family leave, telework, and credentialing -- to making it easier to respond to inquiries from inspector general staff, Congress and the White House.

"The best solutions to problems come from in the field, and that's what LEAF represents," said Worthington.

LEAF is currently used at over 100 medical centers and because of its grassroots nature, is expanding rapidly, Henderson said. But plans for its future are bigger. LEAF is transitioning to Amazon's cloud hosting platform, which will increase the type of projects and data that can be hosted, he said.

Hopefully, he added, the framework will become a "common fixture" across VA for the rank-and-file to design and implement solutions for problems facing their workflow.

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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