Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital Computer System Modernization Project ‘Not Viable,’ Report Finds
A $3.5 billion project to modernize the computer system used by Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals is "not viable" and poses an "unacceptably high risk," according to a copy of a February report obtained by the St. Petersburg Times. The Bush administration has submitted a $311 million budget request for the project, called HealtheVet, which seeks to modernize almost all areas of the computer system used by VA hospitals. The project would include revisions to programs for appointment schedules, laboratory reports, prescriptions and clinical records.
VA hired Carnegie Mellon University to evaluate the project. For the report, consultants from the SoftWare Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon interviewed more than 100 VA employees from November 2004 through January and found a number of technical and managerial problems with the project, such as:
- "Critical processes and procedures (are) frequently eliminated to meet end dates";
- VA has not adequately assessed risks and alternatives;
- Decisions often are "driven by unrealistic, subjective information";
- VA managers do not take the advice of technical experts;
- VA culture opposes "raising risks, issues, problems or differing opinions"; and
- The project management office "does not have the needed staff, authority, responsibility or operational procedures."
VA spokesperson Cynthia Church said that the copy of the report obtained by the Times was only a draft. A Carnegie Mellon spokesperson declined to comment.
Rep. Bill Young (R-Fla.) said that the House Appropriations Committee would launch a formal investigation into the project and that funds requested for the project will receive "extra scrutiny." He said, "We're determined that we're not going to have another ... fiasco," adding, "Veterans are too important."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), last week in a letter to VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, said, "At this time of record-high budget deficits, it makes sense that agencies of the federal government be extra vigilant with taxpayers' money. Not addressing potential problems with a national health-data repository now could lead to another fiscal disaster."
Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense called the report "horrifying," adding that "billions of dollars are at stake and it seems nobody is minding the ship over there" (De La Garza/Nohlgren, St. Petersburg Times, 4/13).