VA could repeat mistakes in IT program, IG says

The Veterans Affairs Department could have a second failure in developing a financial and logistics information technology system, according to a new audit from the department’s Office of the Inspector General.

The VA’s Financial and Logistics Integrated Technology Enterprise (FLITE) program — projected to cost $609 million when completed in 2014 — has at least six deficiencies that echo problems in the VA’s Core Financial and Logistics System (CoreFLS).

The CoreFLS system was canceled in 2004 because it showed major weaknesses in performance despite an investment of $249 million. The FLITE system is in danger of making the same mistakes, Belinda Finn, the VA's assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations, wrote in the Sept. 17 audit.

“Issues similar to those found during the implementation of CoreFLS have already occurred within the FLITE program,” the audit states. “In addition, by not implementing the necessary management controls, FLITE program managers will increase the probability of the recurrence of mistakes encountered during CoreFLS, which could adversely impact the successful implementation of FLITE.”

She said FLITE has insufficient staffing; non-FLITE task orders are funded under the FLITE program; the program has noncompliance with competition requirements, lacks earned value management requirements, doesn't have a quality assurance surveillance plan and contract files are missing documentation. The audit also said the program is understaffed by at least 20 key positions, including positions on the IT program management, acquisition support and program development teams.

“This occurred because VA officials have not placed sufficient emphasis on ensuring FLITE staffing needs are met. A lack of adequate staffing will jeopardize the successful implementation of FLITE,” Finn wrote. Similarly, inadequate numbers of staff undermined the CoreFLS project.

VA officials have acknowledged the personnel concerns and taken steps to address them. In an April 2009 meeting, the FLITE Oversight Board noted that the lack of staffing resources continues to put FLITE at risk regarding the management of inherently governmental responsibilities. The board said that unless the IT program management positions are filled immediately, the program will be at considerable risk. However, as of July 2009, the staffing needs remained unaddressed, the audit said.

The audit makes 11 recommendations for improvements. VA managers generally agreed with the recommendations. However, the VA managers did not agree with the characterizations of all of the non-FLITE-related contracts alleged by the IG.

The VA IG's office recently has issued several critical reports of the department’s IT management. The problems are indicative of systemic shortcomings in the department’s management of large IT procurements, the IG has charged.

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