VA tries to save $311 million HealtheVet system request

Veterans Affairs Department CIO Robert McFarland is going to Capitol Hill today to try to save the $311 million requested for the department's HealtheVet health care IT system.

McFarland is doing damage control after published reports noted weaknesses in development plans for the modernized health care system that were contained in a study the VA commissioned from Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute.

The CIO will meet with staff from the House Veterans' Affairs Committee today to explain that the study was a diagnostic tool to help reduce risk and avoid future problems. He conducted similar talks yesterday with the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee staff.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) recommended yesterday withholding the $311 million fiscal 2006 request for the HealtheVet system until questions about serious operability problems were resolved.

'We did it right this time. We decided to take our preliminary project plan and have experts look at it to help us find the holes and identify the risks so we could come away with a better project plan that we could execute,' McFarland said. Disclosure of the HealtheVet study comes after VA shelved its CoreFLS financial and accounting system last year because it did not work properly in a pilot at VA's Bay Pines, Fla., hospital.

To avoid the pitfalls and risks similar to CoreFLS, VA decided it was important to evaluate and do independent validation and verification of project plans before beginning developing of the project. The SEI study, reported in the St. Petersburg Times, 'sounds like another VA software development project down the tubes. But that's not true,' McFarland said.

The CIO would not provide details of the study but said it addressed the design, organizational structure and testing of HealtheVet. The results for VA are 'a more robust systems and engineering process and deciding the target infrastructure,' he said.

HealtheVet is designed to replace VA's legacy Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, or VistA, electronic records and clinical-care system used throughout VA's hospital system by rehosting, enhancing or re-engineering current health information applications to process on a new platform.

The SEI study, which was conducted last year, said VA's current plans for the new system were 'not viable' and 'an unacceptably high risk,' the published report said. SEI would not comment on its findings. VA has since modified its development plans and resubmitted it to SEI for evaluation.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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