VA CIO resigns over pace of IT change

McFarland, management at odds over slow move to federated approach

CHANGE AGENT: McFarland wanted it sooner.

Henrik G. de Gyor

Veterans Affairs Department CIO Robert McFarland has often referred to his job at VA as that of a change agent. But with VA's leadership not moving fast enough for him on IT reorganization, McFarland has resigned effective April 30.

McFarland has led the reorganization of the department's IT structure and changed the way VA will manage IT. But it's been difficult.

Officials were taking too long to start acting on the plan, according to an individual familiar with the situation who declined to be named. As an outsider, McFarland's job was to push for change. He wasn't satisfied with 'half a loaf,' the source said.

Although those in VA who want to stick with the status quo are still there, McFarland expects no backsliding on progress after he leaves. 'The plan and the people are in place and it will move forward, in my opinion,' he said.

VA officials did not know who would assume McFarland's duties. Possibilities include Craig Luigart, deputy CIO for health, or Jonathan Perlin, undersecretary for health, Veterans Health Administration.

Congress last year gave IT budget authority to the department CIO. Last fall, VA secretary Jim Nicholson decided to reorganize IT management with a federated approach, in which the department CIO would control IT planning, operations and budgets, but VA's health, benefits and burial administrations would develop the applications.

Past problems

Historically, the three administrations have had budget control over their own IT projects and programs. That has led to years of cost overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability, House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) has said. For example, VA spent $342 million on the Core Financial and Logistics System before pulling the plug on it in 2004.

McFarland said he expects Nicholson to approve the plan and to implement it soon.

'The reorganization has produced a contentious atmosphere at the executive level, and my continued presence in it would be detrimental to the department's implementation of it,' he said.

McFarland, a retired Dell Computer Corp. executive, has served as CIO and assistant secretary for information and technology since January 2004.

Lawmakers looked to McFarland to bring industry best practices to VA. Buyer, who introduced the legislation to centralize VA's IT budget under the department CIO, said in a recent hearing that VA was not moving fast enough on the IT reorganization.

McFarland also has implemented outside technical evaluations for major IT programs before contract solicitations were released to assure their success, such as for financial management and its follow-on IT Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software contract, or Peaches 3.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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