VA seeks more than $100M in new cyber funding

The VA's tech budget request includes a big increase for cyber, as well as money for shared services and health record interoperability.

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Under CIO LaVerne Council, the VA is seeking a $128.3 million bump in cyber funding for fiscal year 2017, a 34 percent increase over 2016 levels. The request for $370.1 million in information security funding comes in the wake of both the devastating hack of the Office of Personnel Management and Council's own reorganization of her agency's security office -- including the naming of a new chief information security officer.

The agency, which has more than 300,000 employees and serves a population of more than 20 million vets, remains a popular target for hackers. The agency's cyber defenses turned back more than 76.5 million intrusion attempts and blocked more than 99 million suspicious emails in January 2016, according to the most recent agency data.

Council spoke about the IT improvements at Feb. 10 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee. She said the proposed budget will be enough to take care of the maintenance of legacy systems and achieve the new goals laid out. She also told lawmakers there is a "large legacy issue" that the agency needs to address.

Overall the agency is requesting about $4.3 billion for its Office of Information and Technology. According to the federal IT Dashboard, the request represents an overall drop of about $10 million over enacted 2016 figures, but the VA's budget summary indicates a $145 million increase.

The VA is driving toward some new IT goals for 2017. The agency is seeking $50 million to launch a new Data Management program to use data as a strategic resource. Part of the program includes streamlining its data to make sure it doesn't request the same data for veterans multiple times. The agency also is planning a move to a shared service provider for its financial data. There is a $44.3 million request to replace the 30-year-old core accounting system with modern infrastructure. VA is working with the Treasury Department on the shared services move.

The VA also hopes to finally close out congressionally mandated interoperability requirements between its Vista health record system and systems in place at the Department of Defense. The budget request includes $259 million for Vista modernization.

OI&T is also seeing a big uptick in its headcount, but most of that is due to an administrative shuffle, under which 599 staffers from the VA Enterprise Operations Franchise Fund are being moved to be directly aligned with the tech division.

At the hearing, VA Secretary Robert McDonald told lawmakers that the funding asked for to modernize the VA's information systems is "instrumental in improving the veteran experience." McDonald added that the agency faces the critical need to move "IT structure to the 21st century," in order to do the work necessary to enhance veterans' access, their experience and to strengthen cyber security at the VA.

The overall discretionary budget request for the VA is $78.7 billion. But the agency won't have an easy time securing money for IT or for its overall operations from Congress, which is increasingly frustrated with the pace of change at the troubled agency.

"Absent accountability we are doomed to see repeated problems persist, no matter the budget Congress provides to VA," committee chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said.

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