$167M IT Project For Vets' Medical Care In Shambles - InformationWeek
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4/1/2009
12:13 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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$167M IT Project For Vets' Medical Care In Shambles

An IT project for military patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals has wasted 8 years and $167 million without producing a single usable application. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra could make a huge impact by jumping into this ugly mess and reversing this shabby and inexcusable treatment of our wounded veterans. Step one: fire every IT manager even remotely involved.

An IT project for military patients at Veterans Affairs hospitals has wasted 8 years and $167 million without producing a single usable application. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra could make a huge impact by jumping into this ugly mess and reversing this shabby and inexcusable treatment of our wounded veterans. Step one: fire every IT manager even remotely involved.Nextgov.com, which obtained a memo outlining the massive failure, described the situation this way:

The Replacement Scheduling Application Development Program, which VA began building in 2001, "still has not developed a single scheduling capability it can provide to the field, nor is there any expectation of delivery in the near future," wrote Dr. Michael Kussman, undersecretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, in a March 20 memo to Stephen Warren, acting assistant secretary for information and technology.

Nextgov also reports that this current $167M sinkhole follows in what is becoming a tradition of failure at VA for IT projects: another scheduling project launched in 2001 lasted 5 years, burned through $75 million, and produced nothing of value. If we weren't talking about medical care for veterans who have given so much to this country while asking for so little in return, the sheer incompetence of those involved would be considered a twisted joke.

And as if that weren't maddening enough, the lead paragraph in the Nextgov article underscores what I believe will end up proving to be one of the central reasons behind this miserable failure: "…and senior executives are worried about the repercussions it could cause on the Hill and in the White House." Well it's good to see those geniuses have their priorities straight: instead of focusing on delivering the best possible care and treatment to our wounded veterans, they reveal that their top priority is how their pathetic performance will be perceived by politicians.

No doubt the post-mortem analysis will reveal major technical gaffes; there's surely enough blame to go around, and the Nextgov article does a very thorough job of chronicling the details - please take a moment to read it. But when heads of agencies reveal that their first concern is not the successful completion of life-saving efforts on behalf of our wounded veterans but rather their standing in the eyes of Congress, then both the certainty and the magnitude of their failure can hardly come as a surprise.

Fire them all, Mr. Kundra - that will be a huge step forward.

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