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Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs has cho- sen a National Institutes of Health govern- mentwide acquisition contract for its cloud modernization project.
In a July 8 FedBizOpps announcement, the VA said it had determined that an NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center contract vehicle was the solution for its Enterprise Cloud Services for IT Infrastructure Modernization acquisition strategy.
In April, the VA issued a request for infor- mation seeking to create a partnership with a cloud services broker — a single provider that would act as a gateway to a range of cloud options from multiple vendors.
VA CIO LaVerne Council said the move to cloud services was part of the agency’s “buy first” strategy, a push that covers network modernization, development platforms, infra- structure and enterprise software. Officials also wanted to move a range of IT functions to the cloud, including unified communica- tions and data hosting.
Instead, the VA appears to have shifted its strategy by opting to use NITAAC’s vendor list as a starting point for its cloud procurement.
The VA maintains more than 365 data centers and 800 custom applications, and moving to the cloud is a way to simplify its portfolio and secure data and IT assets, Council said.
The VA’s homegrown electronic health record system VistA is one example of a sprawling asset portfolio. Reimagining VistA as a cloud-based system is an integral part of the VA’s planned shift to a digital health platform.
NITAAC’s primary cloud services contract is CIO Commodities and Solutions, which provides pre-competed contracts for IT prod- ucts and services. NIH said the contracting vehicle allows government customers to comply with federal policies, including the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program for cloud products and services.
— Mark Rockwell
ware, it should focus on how...they ensure that the experience for the veteran is better,” Hurd said. “Veter- ans shouldn’t have to wait 30 days to schedule an appointment.”
Some of the skepticism Hurd describes stems from the long wait in Congress for the VA and DOD systems to work together. Under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, both agencies had to certify that their EHR systems are fully interoperable and able to share records. DOD certi- fied in November 2015 that it had done its side of the work, and the VA fol- lowed suit in April.
Regarding interoperability, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) told FCW that the VA “will get there. It’s just frustrating to see the government over and over again [fail] to move into the 20th century, much less the 21st century.”
Beyond IT
The problems go beyond decades-old IT systems and lie in cultural issues at the top and how the agency com- municates internally.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald came under heavy fire this year, with some lawmakers ask- ing for his resignation, after he made comments comparing veterans’ wait times at VA hospitals to the wait times for rides at Disney theme parks.
“It’s quite obvious that VA’s leaders aren’t at all serious about holding prob- lem employees accountable,” Miller said. “Until VA starts putting veter- ans’ customer service before the job security of misbehaving employees, the department will continue to lurch from one scandal to another, and veterans will continue to pay the price.”
Baker, who dealt with his share of congressional oversight while serving as CIO, said there will always be resis- tance to change at an agency as large as the VA. But within OI&T, he added, “maintaining the [positive] connection between the real users and IT people who have to implement the systems has been the big challenge. That’s
where the issues come from.”
The agency is “undergoing a mas- sive transformation,” Huntley said. “VA is modernizing its culture, pro- cesses and capabilities to put veterans first, and at OI&T, we have shifted the very foundation of how we do busi-
The election’s impact
Most agree that VA’s IT leadership has made significant changes, though per- haps more slowly than many would like. Now a big concern is how the next administration will affect all that progress.
“If Trump gets elected as president, he is going to privatize the VA, so the VA will go away,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said. “That means the vet- erans won’t have the health care, and look, it’s tough getting in the door, but once you are in there, it’s pretty damn good health care.”
Even if that does not happen — and full privatization seems unlikely — people are concerned about whether current leaders will be able to continue making progress when a new political appointee takes over the department. That is something Council herself hopes will go smoothly.
“The biggest concern is that when one leader leaves and another one comes in, they immediately want to change everything,” she said. “My hope is that I will leave very good notes for my successor, and what they will do is do the things that I ran out of time to do and continue the team down that path versus distract the team and turn left.”
Gracey said the timeline given to Council to achieve certain objectives was a “pretty aggressive agenda,” but at the end of the day, “she’s got to pull all those tens of thousands of people with her to make it work, and that’s a big challenge.”
Hurd, meanwhile, said he sees “a glimmer of hope.” Still, he added, “we have to get that done quicker and fast- er so that the veterans can see the change.” n
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