Veterans Affairs

Senate panel passes VA tech oversight bill

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In the wake of the Department of Veterans Affairs' delay of the initial go-live date of its $16 billion electronic health record modernization system, a Senate committee has passed a bill that requires the agency to be more transparent about the status of big-ticket IT projects.

The Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Reform Act of 2019 was first introduced last July by Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). The bill was reported favorably by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Feb. 13, and a Senate vote is expected soon, possibly under unanimous consent.

"I've said all along that this electronic health record system is far too important to our veterans for VA to get wrong. Moving forward, VA must establish stable leadership to provide sufficient accountability and robust oversight of this process, while being good stewards of taxpayer dollars," Tester said in a Feb. 11 statement after the delay of the implementation of the VA's health record modernization project was announced. "I'll be looking to VA to do right by the nine million veterans -- and dedicated VA employees -- who are relying on this system to seamlessly provide care."

The VA is joining the Department of Defense in an effort to install a single instance of the Cerner electronic health record to create a unified, longitudinal health record that will follow a service member from induction through retirement and seamlessly into veteran care.

The delay was announced by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie just a few days after the sudden dismissal of agency Deputy Secretary James Byrne, the senior executive charged with oversight of the electronic health record modernization projects. While the possibility of a delay had been teed up by lawmakers in hearings, members of Congress indicated that notification was sudden.

The bill requires VA to keep its entries and risk data on the federal IT dashboard up to date and report to Congress on IT projects that cost more than $25 million over three years. The bill also looks to ensure the agency CIO has a role in strategic planning, IT workforce development, budgeting, investment management and innovation and emerging technologies.

The bill would cost $2 million to implement over six years, according to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.

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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