VA should centralize all IT functions under CIO: Gartner, Congress

The Veterans Affairs Department should centralize its IT infrastructure under the department CIO, according to the consultant who examined VA's IT organization.

Each VA administration currently has its own way of providing IT services, which has led to higher costs and more risk, said Michael Pedersen, managing vice president for Gartner Consulting and lead researcher for the assessment.

'The way money flows through the department, it's hard to track IT,' Pedersen told the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday during a hearing on VA's IT infrastructure and the CIO's role.

The committee is drafting legislation to put VA IT budget authority under the CIO, after inadequate accountability led to VA system failures such as the Core Financial and Logistics System and the HR Links automated personnel system. Early reviews have also harshly criticized design plans for HealtheVet VistA, the department's modernized electronic health record and clinical system.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) said his legislation would incorporate Gartner's recommendations.

VA CIO Robert McFarland said what is key is 'to get our arms around the infrastructure.' VA received $1.6 billion in fiscal 2005 for IT funding, and 2006 projected spending is more than $2 billion.

'Alignment and consistency are beginning to emerge across VA IT. However, the pace of change needs to significantly increase,' Gartner's report said.

Gartner recommended that VA put all of the department's IT structure under the CIO, with VA administration CIOs reporting directly to McFarland, who would be responsible for all business applications, infrastructure and operations, customer relations, enterprise architecture, IT finance, and data and information security management.

Another approach, the federated model, would centralize planning, technology operations and budgeting under the CIO, but business lines such as medical care and pensions would develop and support their applications. Strong investment management practices would guide the collaboration between the CIO and business units.

Either approach would advance the OneVA goal that has been in place but unrealized for three years. The centralized model would gain efficiencies faster and save VA $345 million annually within five years, while the federated approach would save $207 million annually within five years, Pedersen said.

Gartner also recommended that VA:

  • Document and consistently apply processes

  • Use key performance indicators for accountability in delivering processes

  • Clearly define roles to reduce duplication

  • Formally define IT services, service levels, pricing and align with requirements

  • Develop a performance management program to complement OneVA goals

  • Change how IT organization works to improve VA's culture.

  • In other VA developments in Congress, Senate Democrats plan to introduce an amendment to the Veterans Health Care Act of 2005, S. 1182, that would result in continuing the ban on competitive sourcing at the Veterans Health Administration.

    Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-Idaho) inserted language lifting the ban; Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), plans to introduce language to retain the ban.

    About the Author

    Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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