Baker: VistA code project will stay wide open

A contract to “refactor” the source code of VistA, the Veterans Affairs Department’s enterprise system software, will be conducted in an manner that remains accessible to the open software development community, VA chief information officer Roger Baker said this week.

Baker was responding to questions raised by open software developers after the agency awarded a sole-source contract to Tampa, Fla.-based Ray Group International to refactor VistA source code.

Code refactoring is a technique for making small changes in source code to make it less complex, more readable and therefore easier to maintain and work with without altering the basic function of the software.

In a press call, Baker said the $4.47 million award would “involve the (open source) community every step along the way and get community input as to how the refactoring ought to be done." Baker said the agency contracted out the work to maintain a single point of contact for the project.

Because VistA was first developed over 25-years ago, its source code is not as modular as it could be. Refactoring will make the code more modular and thus easier to work with, according to Baker.

VistA was the backbone on which VA built an extensive electronic health record system across its hospital systems. The software is still widely in use today. In 2009 the VA used the software to exchange health records with Kaiser Permanente, a forerunner to the emerging nationwide health information network.

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