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Opening Statement of Hon. Bill Johnson, Chairman, Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

Good morning.  This hearing will come to order.

I want to welcome everyone to today’s hearing “Reboot: Examining VA’s IT Strategy for the 21st Century”. 

With an information technology budget exceeding three billion dollars annually, it is reasonable for the American taxpayer to expect  the Office of Information and Technology at VA to effectively utilize available technology and provide the highest quality support in the Department’s delivery of healthcare and benefits to veterans. 

As we will hear from the witnesses on both panels today, billions of dollars have been spent on IT at VA.  However, veterans, the taxpayers, and members of this Committee are left to wonder what has resulted from these expenditures.  Have improvements been made?  Certainly.  Are the improvements and advancements in VA IT over the last 10 years on par with the amount of time and taxpayer dollars put into the effort?  Certainly not. 

The witnesses on today’s second panel will help illuminate the magnitude of the money spent on IT over time.  To name a few: $127 million over nine years on an outpatient scheduling system, with none of the planned improvements in place; suspension of the Strategic Asset Management, or “SAM” program, after failing to meet yet another milestone; and a $70 million overrun on a Wi-Fi installation contract.  

I also remain concerned that, as with past contracts and efforts, VA is not thoroughly vetting cost and risk analysis before undertaking new, large IT projects. 

While VA continues to push forward on cloud computing, its own Administration has not fully established the federal guidelines for information security in cloud computing.  In a healthcare environment such as VA’s, I know that I would not want my personally identifiable information floating around in the “cloud”, especially given a track record of data breaches that is less than stellar.

We once again notice a history of poor acquisition and contract management at VA, a theme this Subcommittee is familiar with.  Given the frequency of problems in IT contracts, we know there must be a significant degree of inexperience among the contracting staff, but we are also left to wonder whether supervisors in OIT either don’t know or don’t care about these shortcomings.  When  IT needs are not clearly defined at the beginning of the process, it leads to cost increases and time delays down the road. 

With an IT staff of over seven thousand, I find it difficult to believe that knowledgeable IT professionals  are not helping to create well-defined Requests for Proposal, a key element of a viable contract.   When these contracts constantly have to be modified, it results in greater cost to the taxpayers and a delay of improved services to veterans.   

A crucial area for VA IT to meet expectations is the establishment of the joint Electronic Health Record, or “EHR", with DoD.  Yet another overdue item for our active duty servicemembers and our veterans, the EHR has been pursued separately by the two departments.  The result is billions of dollars spent, much of it duplicative, and no joint EHR.  While I commend the Secretaries of both departments for finally committing this spring to cooperatively pursue this endeavor, I have lingering concerns that mistakes made in previous IT contracts could be repeated. 

For example, after releasing a final RFP on an Open Source custodial agent at the end of last month, VA is only allowing a three-week turnaround for proposals to be submitted at the end of this week. 

It’s not rocket science.  The capabilities to do what needs to be done already exist.  Hundreds of millions of dollars could have been saved in previous years by simply having a robust IT architecture and strategy in place.  The needs are clearly defined: protect veterans’ information, establish an electronic health record in conjunction with DoD, and implement stringent oversight of these and all undertakings in the Office of Information and Technology.    I fully understand the challenges of managing information technology in a large organization.  What I do not understand is why it has taken so long to get only so far at VA.  The American people are watching, and expect VA to take care of our veterans as promised     

I appreciate everyone’s attendance at this hearing and I now yield the Ranking Member for an opening statement.