VA credits software, management for success of year 2000 program

A relatively early start, in-house software expertise and senior manager
involvement are all helping the Veterans Affairs Department keep its year 2000 program on
track, VA officials said.

A review of VHA’s progress by Booz, Allen & Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va., in
May found there will be no direct or immediate impact on VA patient care or benefits
payments come January 2000, Bourget said. The auditors cited VHA’s readiness effort
as a best-practices case, he said.

Overall, VA will spend about $196 million on readiness, said Ernesto Castro, the year
2000 project manager for VA. That includes $40 million for replacing biomedical devices
and $6 million for facilities systems.

VA, which set up year 2000 project offices in 1996, now has five project coordinators.
The General Accounting Office began monitoring VA readiness that same year, and the early
start and oversight really helped, Castro said.

VA Secretary Togo D. West Jr. made readiness a top priority, Castro said. VA year 2000
program managers are only two management layers removed from West, according to an
organization chart VA officials sent to the Office of Management and Budget in May.

The report to OMB said VA has 11 mission-critical system areas with more than 550
applications and more than 11 million lines of code. By May, two of the mission-critical
areas were 2000-ready, and the other nine were undergoing repairs.

The May report cited the monthly progress report that each organization must submit to
D. Mark Catlett, the acting chief information officer, as an effective way of keeping the
organization on schedule.

The Veterans Benefits Administration primarily runs mainframe systems, although there
are some readiness issues for client-server applications and PCs, said Sally Wallace, VBA
year 2000 project manager. VBA had to upgrade its mainframes and replace some third-party
applications, she said.

Because some apps would have failed as early as January, Wallace said, VBA officials
had an extra incentive to meet their goals. As far back as 1977, he said, VBA had known of
year 2000 readiness issues in two payment applications. VBA will complete the software
rewrite of two large educational benefit apps by December.

“We will do testing through the last moment” at the end of 1999, Wallace
said. The reprogramming is complicated by the need to incorporate legislative changes such
as benefits eligibility for spina bifida sufferers, she said.

VHA primarily uses PCs and has many Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha servers, Bourget
said. The administration plans to finish implementing year 2000 software patches in its
173 hospitals by the end of September, he said.

Embedded medical devices are a tougher fix, because a significant number of them cannot
be made year 2000-ready, Bourget said. The department has declared some products obsolete
and replaced them. It also has pressed manufacturers to fix their products, he said.

Castro said VA is working with the Treasury Department’s Financial Management
Service to make sure veterans get paid on time from January 2000 on. And Wallace said
there are regular meetings with Food and Drug Administration and National Institutes of
Health representatives to discuss medical devices and systems.

Department officials also work with their health affairs counterparts from the Defense
Department, which develops software in some of the same languages, she said.  

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