188 VA projects on the chopping block

The Veterans Affairs Department has extended its program management system to all 280 IT projects and suspended spending on two-thirds of them.

Two-thirds of the 280 information technology programs at the Veterans Affairs Department have been suspended from spending, and most of them are either being re-evaluated or have been canceled, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker has said.

This is the second round of IT program suspensions, re-evaluations, restarts and terminations under the VA’s Program Management Accountability System. The first round started in July 2009 and resulted in the suspension of 45 projects.

Currently, only 92 IT projects, or about a third of the total at the VA, are authorized to spend fiscal 2010 funds, Baker said April 20.

As a result of the new suspensions, the VA anticipates “substantially more” savings in its IT budget this year than the $54 million in savings announced earlier, Baker said. He did not provide a current estimate of the savings.

The new figures represent an expansion of the VA’s program management system that Baker started with the 45 troubled IT projects. This February, all 280 IT projects in the department became managed under the system.

Baker on Feb. 24 announced a savings of $54 million as a result of terminating 12 failed IT projects of the initial group of 45 suspended projects. He also said 32 projects had been restarted and one was still under suspension.

In statements on April 19 and 21, Baker updated the status of all 280 IT projects at the department. As of April 20, 92 IT projects are “active” and able to spend down their budgets, 93 are “in planning," 53 are “not started," 21 are “closed," and 21 are “other,” Baker wrote in an e-mail message.

The 21 projects designated as closed represent projects that have been either terminated or completed.

“It is clear we are not spending a lot of money right now,” Baker said in an interview. “We are being very tight on which projects we are starting to work on.”

The 93 projects listed as “in planning” are undergoing re-evaluations and reconfigurations. Most are likely to be restarted once the replanning is completed. “We are restarting projects all the time,” Baker said. “I am in no hurry to spend the money until I know it can be spent productively.”

VA officials also previously announced that the department expects to save $37 million this year by stopping work on a portion of the Replacement Scheduling Application Development program. That program represents about two-thirds of the $54 million in previously announced savings. Officials also said the scheduling program might be restarted.

Baker said April 19 that the scheduling project is being reconfigured and may be restarted with an entirely different approach. The project team currently is analyzing the possibility of purchasing a commercial off-the-shelf application as a solution, he added.

Buying a commercial solution “was not possible in 2001 when we started, but now it is a good probability,” he said.

“I don’t know what the replanned project is likely to cost or the timeline, but it is a whole different approach," Baker said. "You could look at is at a separate and distinct project."