VA likely wasted $1.1 billion on multiple efforts to modernize EHR, GAO says

After 138 contractors hired to develop, manage and maintain its legacy VistA EHR, it's now obsolete since VA plans to replace system with Cerner.
By Jessica Davis
11:34 AM
VA Cerner EHR

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs spent $1.1 billion with 138 contractors from 2011 to 2016 on multiple efforts to modernize its legacy EHR system, VistA, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The spending poses some serious questions about how the VA manages its IT practices, GAO Director of Management Issues David Powner told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Thursday.

[Also: Cerner DoD overhaul coming out in waves; VA deal means 'single system' approach]

According to the report, contract data revealed that 15 key contractors tasked with development, project management and operations and maintenance accounted for $741 million of funding obligations.

“The department has reported progress on consolidating and optimizing its data centers, although this progress has fallen short of targets set by the Office of Management and Budget,” the report found. “VA has also reported $23.61 million in data center-related cost savings, yet does not expect to realize further savings from additional closures.”

As most of the money was spent on what’s now obsolete software and programs and the VA is drawing closer to sign its EHR contract with Cerner, it highlights the need for the VA to amend its management practices to avoid making the same mistakes, explained Powner.

[Also: Cerner EHR project for VA will take 7 to 8 years, Shulkin says]

The report also raises questions as to whether the agency is equipped to handle its EHR modernization project, said subcommittee leaders Will Hurd, R-Texas and Robin Kelly, D-Illinois. Kelly was specifically concerned about the VA hiring, firing and rehiring 34 contracts during the GAO study.

To Powner, the agency needs to focus more on collaborating with relevant offices, leadership continuity and look to the Department of Defense’s Cerner implementation for guidance.

"VA is in the midst of a turnaround," said VA Acting CIO Scott Blackburn. Trust was broken in 2014… And while veteran trust in the agency is increasing, “we still have a long way to go.” 

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