VA moves forward with agencywide IT infrastructure

HERSHEY, Pa. ? About two years ago, staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs didn't have the information they needed, when they needed it. But they did have information they didn't want.

"Today, IT responsibilities are centralized to ensure high-quality performance on time and within budget, and we're redefining IT work force to ensure we have the proper skill set to meet our needs," said Brig. Gen John "Jack" Nicholson, VA undersecretary for memorial affairs. He spoke to industry and government technology executives at the Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference Monday.

Back then, information technology operations were handled in three separate divisions, and the chief information officer directly controlled less than $30 million of $1.3 billion spent on IT annually. The department was one of the most insecure environments in government, and its telecommunications were inefficient, expensive and fragile.

VA secretary Anthony Principi promised Congress he'd reform the department's IT operations, and he did, Nicholson said.

The department developed a capital investment process to leverage new technologies, enterprise architecture plans and set cybersecurity standards and safeguards. The department has also developed a strategic plan designed to improve performance and provide better service to the nation's 25 million veterans and their beneficiaries, he said.

"When the One VA enterprise architecture is fully operational, veterans will feel we know who they are, that we're able to fully answer their questions, and they'll get end-to-end services and access to our systems to meet their needs," Nicholson said.

The department's No. 1 priority is to improve cybersecurity protections to ensure the confidence of veterans and protection of their personal information, he said.

VA has the government's only centralized IT security organization at the department level. The agency spends about $2 billion a year on IT. Its incident response is second only to the Department of Defense, and it has the largest public key infrastructure outside the Defense Department.

By 2005, the department aims to have the largest population of certified IT professionals in the federal government, Nicholson said.

The VA's other IT goals include:
* Implementing the One VA enterprise architecture
* Implementing the One VA data network
* Measuring its IT performance
* Improving its communications infrastructure
* Transforming the VA from a business-centric to a veteran-centric service delivery system.

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