Can VA spend $500M on new contracts in five months?

The clock is ticking for the VA as it tries to roll out the contracts needed to reach the next milestones on 16 major initiatives.

Within the next five months the Veterans Affairs Department intends to award IT contracts collectively worth $500 million to help reach the next milestones for Secretary Eric Shinseki’s 16 major initiatives, officials said today.

Overall, the VA’s IT budget for the current fiscal year includes $800 million for the 16 priority projects, and $300 million has been obligated to date, Roger Baker, assistant secretary for information and technology, told an INPUT industry forum on VA's IT programs on May 4.

The secretary’s 16 priorities, which aim for fulfillment within five years, include eliminating veteran homelessness, eliminating the backlog in the Veterans Benefits Management System and establishing a Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record for veterans.

“The secretary is very serious about this,” Baker said. “You do not tell a four-star general [Shinseki] that you did not execute his major initiatives.”

All of the IT acquisitions will be assigned to the VA’s Technology Acquisition Center in Eatontown, N.J. However, the center is likely to delegate some of the contracting to other centers, said Steven Schliesman, director of project management for the initiatives program.

All of the IT procurements will follow Project Management Accountability System principles, including delivery of increments of functionality within six months; alignment of the contracts with the increment deadlines and establishment of requirements before contracts are issued, Schliesman said.

One of the greatest difficulties for the VA will be to handle the anticipated large volume of contracts in the final five months of fiscal 2011, Schliesman added. With such limited time available, many of the major initiative IT contracts will ask for bids within seven days of a request for proposals because of the “sheer volume and scope” of the acquisition workload, he said.

“We have a short turn-around because of the volume. We simply do not have time,” Schliesman said. “The clock is ticking.”

He also asked for vendor patience with delays in obtaining access to VA computers once a contract is awarded, which he termed the “onboarding” problem. “We are working on it,” he said.

The 16 major initiatives include the following work and estimated value of contracts for fiscal 2011:

  • Veterans Benefits Management System--$150 million for eliminating claims backlog, application development, systems, data.
  • Veterans Relationship Management - $110 million for telephony, Web portals, access management, voice access, etc.
  • Enhanced Veteran Experience - $85 million for scheduling, registry, application development, telehealth, etc.
  • Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record - $70 million for data architecture, electronic transfer, system integration and application development.