GAO finds fault with VA healthcare IT system

By Diana Manos
11:05 AM

The Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture-Foundations Modernization (VistA-FM) program, designed to transition the agency to electronic medical records, is behind schedule and over budget, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Based on performance data from June 2008 to May 2009, VistA-FM has experienced continual negative cost and schedule variances, the GAO said in a report released Monday.

The report also found that as of May 2009, the program had exceeded its planned cost target by $14.9 million and had not completed $24.9 million in planned work.

VA officials cited resource availability and interdependencies among projects as key drivers of cost and schedule variances. The GAO has estimated that the program will overrun its current budget – worth approximately $1.897 billion – by $350.2 million.

The GAO study examined the Veterans Health Administration's healthcare IT system and seven other federal agencies with the highest levels of IT development-related spending in fiscal year 2009.

In fiscal year 2009, the federal government planned to spend about $71 billion on information technology investments. The GAO was mandated to review how well the investments are being managed.

VistA-FM is designed to provide a framework as well as additional standardization and common services components. It's also intended to eliminate redundancies in coding and support interoperability among applications. However, VA officials have told the GAO that VistA-FM is costly and difficult to maintain and doesn't integrate well with newer software packages.

The GAO report said that during the course of its review, the VA's chief information officer suspended multiple components of the VistA-FM program until a new development plan can be put in place. The action was taken as part of a department-wide initiative to identify troubled IT projects and improve their execution.

The GAO has recommended that the VA improve how it monitors VistA-FM's success.

Of the 16 investments made across eight agencies studied by GAO, 13 of the IT projects reportedly need better managing, according to GAO officials.