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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner, Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

Thank you all for coming here today for this hearing on VA’s information technology reorganization efforts.  We will examine the progress the VA has made in centralizing its IT efforts.  

We shall explore the progress the VA has made in its efforts to be the “gold standard” of information security among federal agencies, a goal enunciated by Secretary Nicholson in the wake of last year’s data breach involving over 25 million veterans and the incident earlier this year in Birmingham, Alabama. 

This Committee understands that IT centralization will not happen overnight, nor are we asking it to, but we are asking -- and our veterans are demanding -- that the VA to be held accountable for getting the job done.

This past June, the General Accountability Office (GAO), while praising the commitment from senior leadership, found fault with a number of areas in the VA’s efforts, areas that hinder the VA’s ability to successfully reach its reorganization goals. 

They included… rejecting GAO’s recommendation that VA create a dedicated implementation team responsible for day-to-day management of major change initiatives.  Instead, VA is apparently dividing the responsibility among two organizations in the new structure.  GAO was concerned that this approach would not work, and so is this committee.

More recently, GAO reported that of 17 recommendations made by the VA Inspector General, 16 had not yet been implemented.  Implementing these recommendations is essential if the VA is to protect private information and meet its obligations under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). 

In the final analysis, we must remember that IT is merely a tool, a tool used by the VA in furtherance of its mission of caring for veterans.  This Committee has continued to work in a bipartisan fashion to encourage the VA to centralize its IT efforts.  These efforts will lead to concrete benefits for both the VA, taxpayers, and most importantly our veterans. 

As we look to the VA to better manage its IT efforts, and to take the lead in data security efforts, we must also ensure these efforts do not unduly harm the VA’s mission of providing health care and benefits to our veterans.

Our charge is to ensure that while VA is carrying out its mission, it does so with the best and most up-to-date technology the 21st century provides, while securing that technology from outside manipulation and preventing improper disclosure of our veterans’ confidential information. 

VA, at the same time, must continue the creativity and innovation in the use of electronic medical and other systems that has put VA at the forefront of medical care.  These are not easy tasks.  We are heartened by many of the steps the VA has undertaken, but remained concerned that more should be done, and could be done…faster

We remain hopeful that the VA can simultaneously provide our veterans the greatest security, management and healthcare.  Undoubtedly, the efficient and effective management and operation of the VA IT efforts will realize tangible benefits for our veterans.