Gracey brings IT to the fore

Harold Gracey has worked in the Veterans Af-fairs
Department for 16 years. He was chief of staff until July, when he became acting assistant
secretary for information and technology.


As the VA’s first chief information officer, he has pushed for compliance with
the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996.


His CIO Council within VA tackles tough issues, and he works with VA’s
financial arm on program management.


GCN recently talked to Gracey about VA’s new CIO architecture.


GRACEY: Secretary Togo D. West Jr. split off
the chief information officer duties from the assistant secretary for management because
he wanted Veterans Affairs to look at information technology full time.


The assistant secretary for management handled both the CIO and the chief financial
officer positions. West didn’t think the CIO position was a job that will be shared
with the CFO.


Secretary West asked me to look at the new office to see how it aligned with the
Information Technology Management Reform Act. I didn’t find any surprises, but there
were two challenges. One was to fulfill the mandates of Clinger-Cohen (ITMRA) and manage
IT investments in the department. The second was to focus on results, which means working
closely with the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration and
VA’s business side to ensure that IT is better serving veterans.


For the first time, we now have in place a fully mature process where we look at
capital investments proposed by various business lines in VA. We put capital investments
through a rigorous process, first with an IT panel, then by bringing them to the internal
CIO Council, then to a capital investment board chaired by the deputy secretary.
We’re really looking hard at how they stack up against our criteria.


For example, how they support better customer service, what the return on investment is
and what some alternatives are.


I look to the internal CIO Council to capture one avenue of discussion—the hot IT
issues in front of us at the moment. The departmental CIOs make the IT decisions in their
organizations, but they have a dotted line to me.


The council consists of CIOs from VHA and VBA, and council members from the National
Cemetery Association, the Office of Policy and Planning, the Board of Veterans Appeals and
the Office of Management.


So far, we’ve talked about the replacement of VA’s WAN, information security,
policy on Internet use and providing better customer service.


The CIO Council is working well, but I need two avenues of discussion to capture all
the ideas. In addition to meeting with the CIOs, I also meet with VBA deputy
undersecretary Nora Egan, and Tom Garthwaite, VHA deputy undersecretary.


You really need to know what’s going on in the business community in order to
figure out what the CIOs should be up to. So I try and use a double path to make sure
I’m capturing everybody’s thoughts and concerns.




VA in February completed year 2000 repairs on all of 300
applications running on 11 mission-critical systems.


The department has tested 99 percent of its systems and implemented
97 percent of them, said Harold F. Gracey, VA’s acting assistant secretary for
information and technology, and acting chief information officer.


VA has begun using seven of the 11 mission-critical systems:
compensation and pension, insurance, vocational rehabilitation, administrative, financial
management, personnel and administration of national cemeteries, Gracey said. The
department still has to finish the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology
Architecture, educational programs, corporate system and loan guaranty system, he said.


The company will also offer analysis, design, development, testing,
evaluation and implementation of training systems and products.


The contract has one base year base and four option years.


“Highway 1 and its member companies have helped us design a
benchmark system that we believe will lead to notable improvements for veterans filing
claims,” VA undersecretary for benefits Joseph Thompson said.


Highway 1, a nonprofit organization in Washington, helped VBA design
and install the pilot at VA’s Washington regional office.


Team members included Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., CSC,
Eastman Kodak Co., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Radian Systems Inc. of Alexandria, Va.


The department last year in-stalled Datacap Paper Keyboard from
Datacap Inc. of White Plains, N.Y., on its Automated Information Collection System to
automate the processing of clinic medical forms.


Every day, medical staff members at VA outpatient clinics receive
customized forms on which they record patients’ treatments and diagnoses.


They then scan the forms into the system, where the software
captures the data and drops it in VA’s main patient care database.


The software has let VA see more outpatients and collect more
information than before, which ultimately leads to better care, said Alan Skinner, AICS
project manager for the Veterans Health Administration’s Chief Information Office.


“Potentially, forms could be de-signed and scanned for many
initiatives,” Skinner said.


“The possibilities of this technology appear to be limitless in
the VA system,” he said. 

Who’s
In Charge


Harold F. Gracey Jr.
Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, Acting Chief Information
Officer and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology Deputy CIO


Newell E. Quinton
Veterans Benefits Administration CIO


R. David Albinson
Veterans Health Administration CIO


Vincent L. Barile
VA CIO Council member, Director of Operations Support for the National Cemetery
Administration


Dennis Duffy
VA CIO Council member, Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning


Ronald R. Aument
VA CIO Council member, Management and Administration Director for the Board of Veterans
Appeals


Stanley R. Sinclair
VA CIO Council member, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management


Digital Equipment Corp.  $123


Federal Data Corp.  $31


Inacom Corp.  $22


Dell Computer Corp.  $17


Datatrac Information Services  $14


Siemens Corp.  $13


Sherikon Corp.  $10


Business Control Systems Inc.  $10


Wang Government Services  $8


ABT Associates Inc.  $8


Total $256


 


Hardware and Software Procurement—Compaq
Computer Corp. and Vanstar Government Systems Inc. of Fairfax, Va., are supplying VA with
hardware and software through a five-year contract, awarded in January 1997, that could
total $1.5 billion. To date, the department has bought almost $75 million worth of
equipment, including Digital Equipment Corp. and IBM Corp. PCs, printers from Epson
America Inc. and Lexmark International Inc. of Lexington, Ky., and Microsoft Windows 95
and Lotus SmartSuite 97 software.


Nationwide Office Automation—Lockheed Martin
Corp. is providing hardware and software to integrate systems in more than 600 VA offices
through a 10-year, $153 million contract awarded in January 1991. To date, the department
has bought almost $90 million worth of equipment. VA wants to integrate systems at its 172
medical centers.


WAN Follow-on Procurement—Sprint Corp.,
through an eight-year, $100 million contract awarded in February under FTS 2001, will
develop a network to replace VA’s Integrated Data Communications Utility system to
accommodate the department’s growth in data traffic, ad-vancements in open systems
technology, new high-speed protocols and increased integration of data, voice and video.


Management Studies and Analyses—Eight
companies are working under a five-year, $100 million contract awarded in July 1995 to
support VA’s business process re-engineering efforts in management studies, systems
analysis and design.


Mainframe Systems Re-placement Project—FDC
Technologies Inc. of Bethesda, Md., has a 10-year, $43 million contract from 1990 to
upgrade hardware and software at VA’s Data Processing Center in Austin, Texas. VA
wants to upgrade its Amdahl Corp. 5890-300E and 5860 mainframes to a 5890-180E.


New technologies give VBA worker a clearer view


Agency provides adaptive equipment to help an employee with a severe eye condition do
her job



When Jannis Butler-Tolliver realized her eye condition was keeping her from working
effectively, she asked the Veterans Benefits Administration for adaptive computer
equipment.


The agency’s information technology contractor and its subcontractor helped
Butler-Tolliver find an equipment and software package that has let her continue working
without further damage to her eyesight.


“In April 1998, I attended a demonstration of adaptive equipment by the VBA’s
Systems Architecture Division,” said Butler-Tolliver, a senior computer specialist in
the agency’s Year 2000 Project Office. “After the demonstration, I knew what I
saw there was for me.”


Butler-Tolliver, 48, suffers from retinitis pigmentosa, an inherited eye condition. It
reduces the retina’s ability to effectively transmit images to the eye, which
decreases field of view and night vision.


Butler-Tolliver was diagnosed with the condition while attending college at Howard
University. In 1996, she experienced a 50 percent loss of vision and was certified as
legally blind.


That year, Butler-Tolliver told Sally Wallace, VBA’s year 2000 project manager,
about her condition and asked for equipment to help her see text on her screen.


“She was a little surprised because I don’t appear blind or partially
blind,” said Butler-Tolliver, a 28-year federal civil servant who has worked at VBA
since 1983. “But she encouraged me to look at adaptive equipment to help me perform
my job and told me VBA would get me whatever I needed.”


Butler-Tolliver coordinates date code changes and testing in VBA’s systems
development centers outside Washington and works closely with financial institutions that
do business with the agency. It took her two years to find the right computer equipment
for her condition.


Most assistive technologies are for the totally blind, she said, and do not integrate
with her PC, a 350-MHz Compaq Deskpro SB with 64M of RAM and a 4G hard drive.


VBA in November 1992 awarded an eight-year, $300 million contract to FDC Technologies
Inc. of Bethesda, Md., to upgrade the agency’s hardware and software, and give system
support. The contract also required computer accessibility for VBA’s disabled
employees, said Barry Jackson, FDC marketing representative.


FDC in March 1997 subcontracted the assistive technology support requirement to Milvets
Systems Technology Inc. of Lanham, Md. The company performs needs assessment and gives
subsequent training, said Donald Perry, Milvets associate director.


In Butler-Tolliver’s case, Milvets recommended:


Glenn Smith, a Milvets senior adaptive technology specialist, followed up the equipment
integration with 80 hours of training.


“The equipment has decreased my eyestrain, which will help me keep my eyesight
longer,” said Butler-Tolliver. “I can now process a great deal of information in
a short amount of time. Most importantly, I can work longer, and that makes me
happy.”


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