A group of lawmakers, led by the senior members of the House and Senate committees that oversee the Department of Veterans Affairs, are worried about the agency's new acting CIO and the slow pace of senior tech hires.
A group of congressional Democrats wants the Department of Veterans Affairs to remove the acting CIO because allegations of professional misconduct.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who sits on the Senate Veteran's Affairs Committee, Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the ranking member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and nine other lawmakers said there are "serious character concerns that should disqualify" acting CIO Camilo Sandoval from holding the top tech post at the agency.
In a May 15 letter, the lawmakers noted current legal complaints against Sandoval stemming from allegations of harassment during his work on Donald Trump's presidential campaign. The letter also notes that Sandoval's "previous conflicts" at the Department of Treasury and the Veteran's Health Administration "raise serious red flags and indicate a history of rampant interpersonal conflicts with co-workers."
The lawmakers also complained that Sandoval was involved with Cambridge Analytica while working on the Trump campaign. That firm, it was discovered, improperly captured profile data on 87 million individuals which was eventually shared with the Trump campaign. The scandal is still reverberating in Congress and in legislative bodies abroad.
"Cambridge Analytica's misuse of personal information from tens of millions of Americans, including veterans, was an incredible breach of trust," the lawmakers said. "As such, Sandoval's role in these activities must be thoroughly examined and he should be put nowhere near veterans' health and benefits data."
The VA CIO oversees an annual budget of about $4.3 billion. In addition, the CIO also has an important role in the planned $16 billion modernization of the agency's electronic health records system, which includes an anticipated $10 billion sole-source contract with Cerner, the same health IT firm that supplies the software in the Defense Department's new and troubled health record system.
The VA CIO is a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary position, and the letter suggests a thorough confirmation process for Sandoval should he be nominated to lead OI&T. However, the position in the past few years has been held on an acting basis more often than not. The latest CIO, Scott Blackburn, was serving on an acting basis. During the Obama administration, career tech official Stephen Warren served as the VA's top tech official on an acting basis for more than two-and-half years between the tenures of Senate-confirmed CIOs Roger Baker and LaVerne Council.
The letter also seeks information on any input provided to VA leadership and President Donald Trump on plans to modernize the VA's health record system. This request is an outgrowth of reporting in Politico that identified Dr. Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach internist and denizen of the Mar-a-Lago resort, as a frequent participant in discussions on the health record modernization plan.
"As an internist with no government experience, Dr. Moskowitz lacks the expertise to provide the administration with insight to address the challenges of developing an interoperable system," the letter states.
The lawmakers also want to see VA pick up the pace in hiring, citing the recent resignation of 40 senior staffers and 553 vacancies in the Office of Information and Technology, "effectively stalling operations in essential areas."
Acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie praised Sandoval in a May 16 statement, calling him "an important member of [the] leadership team."
"Camilo Sandoval has extensive experience in financial technology and digital mobile payments. Along with his close working relationship with the White House, this makes him well suited to oversee VA’s IT infrastructure while the White House vets a permanent candidate for the position," Wilkie said.
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