VA to hold up new projects until IT restructuring is done

The Veterans Affairs Department will take a 'strategic pause' in developing new systems and functionality until 2008 while it reorganizes its IT structure to put budget authority under the department CIO, according to a senior VA official.

In a sometimes-heated debate, lawmakers told VA officials that they were not moving fast enough to reorganize the IT structure. Lawmakers also did not want to appropriate funds to upgrade older IT programs that would be replaced with modernized systems when new development was restarted.

The reorganization will standardize and consolidate IT management and operations as the first savings for the program, said VA deputy secretary Gordon Mansfield. The hiatus in developing new systems is the result of reductions in the fiscal 2006 budget and continues into fiscal 2007 with the infrastructure reorganization.

'We've been tough on your IT budget. But our oversight will intensify during this period,' said House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) at a hearing last week.

VA decided last fall to reorganize IT management with a federated approach, in which the department CIO would control IT planning, operations and budgets, but VA's health, benefits and burial administrations would develop the applications. Historically, the three administrations have had budget control over their specific IT projects and programs. That has led to years of cost overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability, Buyer said. For example, VA spent $342 million on the Core Financial and Logistics System before pulling the plug on it in 2004.

Mansfield said VA was acting on lessons learned from the CoreFLS failure.

'We want to make sure we've got it right and know it will work,' Mansfield said.

The Gartner Group, which VA hired to study their IT environment, had recommended a centralized approach as the most effective. But it provided a framework for a federated model.

'I'm listening to debate within [VA] senior management what that framework means so we can start implementing it. We believe this is the way to go to start reforming VA IT,' Mansfield said.

VA CIO Robert McFarland said he still believed in the centralized approach over the federated.

'But any change from where we are today is a good thing,' he told lawmakers.

The House late last year passed legislation that Buyer spearheaded, giving the VA department CIO IT budget authority. Similar legislation has not yet been introduced in the Senate.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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