VA CIO resigns over pace of IT changes

Veterans Affairs CIO Robert McFarland's patience has run out. With VA's executive leadership not moving fast enough on IT reorganization, McFarland resigned effective April 30.

McFarland has led the reorganization of the department IT structure, which has turned upside down the way VA will manage IT. Congress last year gave IT budget authority to the department CIO. Previously, VA's benefits, health and burial administrations controlled budgets for their major IT projects. It has been a difficult change.

McFarland last week told senior executives that he wanted them to start moving forward with the restructuring by the end of this week, according to an individual who is aware of the situation but who did not want to be named. Secretary Jim Nicholson had approved a model to begin to centralize IT late last year. As an outsider, McFarland's job was to push change. He wasn't satisfied with a 'half a loaf,' the individual said.

McFarland said he expects Nicholson to approve the IT reorganization plan and begin 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,' McFarland said.

McFarland, a retired Dell Computer Corp. executive who will return to retirement in Austin, Texas, has served as VA's CIO and assistant secretary for information and technology since January 2004.

The House Veterans Affairs Committee looked to McFarland to bring industry best practices to VA's IT environment. Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), who introduced the legislation to centralize VA's IT budget under the department CIO, said the reorganization was in response to years of cost overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability. For example, VA spent $342 million on the Core Financial and Logistics System before pulling the plug on it in 2004. In the most recent hearing, Buyer said VA was not moving fast enough on the changes.

McFarland also has implemented more outside technical evaluations for major IT programs before contracts solicitations are 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.

'Under his leadership and initiative, VA has strengthened its position as the world leader in the development and use of an electronic medical records system, and has made great progress in modernizing the department's vast Information and Technology system,' Nicholson said in a statement.

'I am deeply honored to have had the opportunity to serve the president and the secretary, and most notably to have served my country and my fellow veterans,' McFarland said in a statement.

An Army Vietnam veteran, he earned a bachelor's degree from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.

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