VA moves IT development, management under CIO

The Veterans Affairs Department will centralize IT development and management under the department CIO, shifting from its plans for a federated model, VA CIO Robert Howard said today. The centralized effort will become permanent in April, he said.

VA secretary Jim Nicholson recently signed documents, which VA will announce within a week, to bring application and enterprise development under the department CIO, Howard said.

VA had originally planned to keep applications development with its health, benefits and burial administrations and place management of its IT maintenance and operations under the department CIO in a federated organization.

Nicholson told a congressional hearing last summer that he would eventually centralize the IT organization, but he has accelerated the transformation, Howard said.

'He was going to do it anyway, but there were things that occurred since last summer that caused him to go ahead and move forward,' Howard said.

IBM Corp., which developed a target organization structure for VA, was about to conduct field assessments of initial changes under the original federated model. VA in October transferred responsibility for more than 4,500 IT operations and maintenance employees in the first step of the federated IT reorganization. It was more efficient, however, to accelerate full centralization and send IBM into the field once to assess the complete makeover.

'Originally, we felt it would be better to do it in two segments,' Howard said.

VA has been gradually moving from a decentralized system to a more centralized one. But the incremental transition process revealed difficult issues, and VA must make hard decisions around legacy systems, standards and interoperability, said IBM's draft reorganization document.

An executive order that President Bush released in August also influenced Nicholson to accelerate centralization, Howard said. The president directed agencies to comply with interoperability, cost and quality objectives, and to provide cost and quality data to patients, beneficiaries and federal employees. That will require migration to standards-based systems that VA consistently implements across its agencies.

'The need to maintain the pace of change at the Department of Veterans Affairs and to introduce and maintain enterprise policies, processes and standards points to a need for a single IT leadership authority,' IBM said in its report.

Under the draft reorganization document, the agency plans to group IT development under a deputy assistant secretary for enterprise development who reports to the CIO.

IBM recommended that a principal deputy CIO focus internally on integration of the Office of Information and Technology. Five deputy assistant secretaries would concentrate on:
  • Information protection and risk management
  • IT enterprise strategy, policy and plans
  • IT resource management
  • Enterprise development
  • Enterprise operations and infrastructure.

The House last year passed legislation spearheaded by House Veterans Affairs chairman Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) to centralize IT authority under the department CIO. The Senate has not acted on the bill. Moving applications and enterprise development under the VA CIO will mean full IT budget and management centralization.

Gartner Consulting of McLean, Va., which VA hired to assess the department's IT management environment, last year recommended that VA centralize all management of IT budgeting under the department CIO.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.


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