House votes to grant budget authority to VA CIO

The House has unanimously approved HR 4061, the Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Management Improvement Act, giving the CIO of the Veterans Affairs Department authority over IT budgets, personnel and assets.

The legislation sets the stage for a battle between legislators who want more IT accountability, and the VA, which has been slow to act. Rep. Steve Buyer (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the sponsor of the legislation, threatened to cut more funds from VA's IT budget request next year if the department does not follow Congress' directive.

The VA has historically funded IT efforts through three of its divisions: the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery Administration. But that has led to years of cost overruns, mismanagement and lack of accountability, Buyer said.

VA told Buyer it would reorganize IT management with a federated approach, in which the department CIO would control IT planning, operations and budgets, but the administrations would develop the applications.

"I told the VA they need to stop right now with their federated approach and adopt the centralized approach," Buyer said after the vote.

Buyer had recommended that the House cut $400 million out of VA's fiscal 2006 IT budget request; appropriators cut a slightly lower figure than that.

"I assured VA that if they are going to continue with their recalcitrance, they are leaving me no choice but to cut the following year's budget [by] another $400 million," Buyer added.

In 2003, then-secretary Anthony Principi directed VA to centralize its IT processes, but that still hasn't happened, according to Buyer.

In an assessment of the department's IT management environment, Gartner Consulting told Buyer's committee in September that it recommended that VA centralize management of IT budgeting, which could save the department $1.7 billion over five years. It will cost about $14 million to reorganize IT management under the centralized model, Gartner said.

VA has spent about $1 billion annually over the last decade to upgrade its IT infrastructure, Buyer said. While there have been improvements in VA's IT modernization efforts, there have been some prominent project failures, including:
  • The $600 million VETSNET, the automated compensation and pension claims processing system that still has not been implemented after 10 years of development

  • $342 million spent for CoreFLS, the department's failed financial management system and

  • $300 million for the HR Links, VA's failed automated personnel system.

Mary Mosquera is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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