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3/1/2011
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GAO: Redundant Federal IT Systems Waste Money

The GAO identified four key areas for IT process improvement -- Department of Defense business systems, enterprise architecture, data centers, and e-health records -- and gave recommendations for how the government could eliminate overlap in these efforts.

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The number of federal data centers grew from 432 in 1998 to more than 2,000 in 2010, according to the Office of Management and Budget. The centers are rife with overlap -- including similar types of equipment, processing, and storage capabilities, a situation that's created multiple redundancies and unnecessary energy consumption, according to the report.

The GAO noted that the current data-center consolidation plan is on the right track to solving overlap, but observed that challenges -- such as funding from the government upfront for agencies to achieve consolidation plans and establishing and implementing shared standards for storage, security, and other systems -- exist as agencies continue to move ahead.

The agency recommended that the OMB and office of U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra continue their oversight of consolidation as agency plans take more shape and evolve to ensure they are eliminating identified redundancies.

Interoperability -- or lack thereof -- of electronic health record (EHR) practices between the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs is another area of overlap cited in the report that agencies also are already working to address, although in not so broad a manner as the data-consolidation effort.

The GAO noted that although the two agencies share "many common health care business needs," they are working separately to modernize their EHR systems.

The DoD has begun an effort called the EHR (Electronic Health Record) Way Ahead to modernize its current AHLTA system, while the VA has begun a separate, open-source-based effort to modernize VistA, its decades-old EHR system.

The agency recommends that the two agencies work more closely together to align their modernization efforts and define and implement a process -- one that takes into consideration costs, benefits, schedule and risks -- for identifying joint IT investments that exist within each agency to meet the departments' common health care business needs. They also should further develop a joint health architecture as they implement their next-generation EHR systems, an effort that is already in motion.

VA CIO Roger Baker recently gave an update on the effort to a congressional committee, saying the two agencies are weeks away from agreeing on a common standard for electronic health records (EHRs), a move that should drastically improve how the agencies share patient data.

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