Veterans Affairs says it has turned IT operations around

'Veterans will feel we know who they are, that we're able to fully answer their questions, and they'll get end-to-end services.'

'VA's Jack Nicholson

Henrik G. de Gyor

About two years ago, staff at the Veterans Affairs Department did not have the information they needed, when they needed it. But they did have information they didn't want.

'Today, IT responsibilities are centralized to ensure high-quality performance on time and within budget, and we're redefining our IT work force to ensure we have the proper skill set to meet our needs,' said retired Brig. Gen. John W. 'Jack' Nicholson, undersecretary of VA for memorial affairs.

VA's current IT budget runs about $2 billion a year and is overseen directly by the CIO, he said last week at the Industry Advisory Council's ELC.

Before centralization, three separate divisions handled IT operations, and the CIO controlled less than $30 million of the $1.3 billion then being spent annually on IT. The department was one of the least secure environments in government, and its telecommunications were inefficient, expensive and fragile, Nicholson said.

VA secretary Anthony Principi promised Congress he would reform the department's systems operations, and he did, Nicholson said.

Strategic reforms

The department developed a capital investment process for new technologies, began detailing an enterprise architecture and set security standards. VA also has developed a strategic plan to improve performance and provide better service to the nation's 25 million veterans and their beneficiaries, Nicholson said.

'When the One VA enterprise architecture is fully operational, veterans will feel we know who they are, that we're able to fully answer their questions, and they'll get end-to-end services and access to our systems to meet their needs,' he said.

The department's No. 1 priority now is to improve cybersecurity so veterans are confident their personal information is safe, Nicholson said.

Currently, the department has the government's only centralized IT security organization at the department level, he said. Its incident response is second only to the Defense Department, and it has the largest public key infrastructure outside DOD, Nicholson said. And, by 2005, the department intends to have the largest population of certified IT professionals in the government, he said.

VA's other IT goals include:
  • Implementing the One VA enterprise architecture

  • Implementing the One VA data network

  • Measuring its IT performance

  • 8Improving the communications infrastructure
  • Transforming VA services from business-centric to veteran-centric.

Gail Repsher Emery is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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