***VIDEO FILE INCLUDED*** Rep. Lee Questions VA Leadership on IT Challenges, Shortcomings Throughout Department
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Susie Lee (Nev.-03), chair of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, co-led a joint hearing of the Subcommittees on Technology Modernization and Oversight and Investigations on longstanding financial management challenges at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Rep. Lee highlighted the fact that delivery of essential VA services, including veteran health services, relies on an outdated, inefficient financial management Information Technology (IT) system, which makes it harder for veterans to get the care they need:
“Like many federal agencies, the Department of Veterans Affairs is on a necessary, but challenging journey to update its aging and antiquated IT systems. Many of these systems are not visible to the average observer, but they are critical systems that support the backbone of VA operations, and without them VA cannot deliver the care and services that our veterans have earned.
“A veteran may not directly touch the systems that support financial management, but these systems touch almost every aspect of VA operations. They are what ensures that VA gets the bills paid correctly and on time. They are how VA ensures that programs have the resources they need to provide important services.
“The current condition of these systems leaves VA vulnerable to risk, cybersecurity problems, and bad financial decisions. In turn, these conditions can lead to harm to veterans and their families. The need to replace these legacy systems is clear, but the ongoing effort to do this raises questions about whether VA is approaching this modernization effort in an efficient and effective way.”
As Chair of the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, Rep. Lee is leading congressional oversight of VA’s current efforts to modernize its electronic health records system. A new joint system between VA and the Department of Defense—the Electronic Health Record Management (EHRM) program—is scheduled to rollout in March 2020. After numerous hearings, Rep. Lee remains concerned that VA will not be fully prepared to effectively introduce the new EHRM system by March 2020.
Rep. Lee indicated that her own oversight efforts of the EHRM implementation show a pattern of a lack of governance structure by VA leadership to adequately implement IT modernization programs across the Department:
“The new system must connect to numerous other VA IT systems, such as EHRM, many of which are also undergoing modernization. Having so many dependent systems and so much enterprise-wide change increases the risk to this project. Further, it appears that VA is facing the same problems that plagued and led to the failure of other IT modernization programs, including a lack of a clear governance structure, inadequate and shifting requirements development, and uncertain resources.”
BACKGROUND: The Financial Management Business Transformation (FMBT) program is a major effort to modernize VA’s financial systems. The new financial system will have to integrate with other systems, including EHRM. When a servicemember transitions from active duty to civilian life, their health records should move with them from DoD to the VA health care system. The goal of the EHRM project is to modernize VA’s electronic record system while also improving and optimizing the transition to the VA health care system.
On November 21, 2019, Chairwoman Lee led the most recent Technology Modernization Subcommittee hearing on EHRM implementation. After hearing from VA leadership tasked with managing the EHRM project, it remained clear that VA has significant work left to do to properly develop, train, and test the program, creating very real concerns that the EHRM program will not be ready for its scheduled March 2020 rollout.
Before the August 2019 recess, the Subcommittee held two hearings on the implementation of the EHRM systems at the VA and DoD. On June 4, 2019, the Subcommittee examined the implementation from the perspective of the three prime contractors for the VA and DoD programs, Cerner, Leidos, and Booz Allen Hamilton. On June 12, 2019 the Subcommittee heard from the VA and DoD directly about the implementation and had an opportunity to address key concerns—especially joint governance and infrastructure. Additionally, the Subcommittee held a hearing on September 26, 2019, on the future of VA scheduling and the Cerner Scheduling Solution. On October 30, 2019 the Subcommittee, in conjunction with the House Armed Services Committee, held a roundtable to discuss the state of EHRM at both DoD and VA.
In June, the House of Representatives adopted three amendments introduced and supported by Rep. Lee to improve EHRM implementation by clarifying and enhancing the role of the VA and DOD Federal Electronic Health Record Modernization (FEHRM) joint program office responsible for EHR implementation. The amendments would create specific implementation milestones to ensure accountability and provide greater assurance that clinical and patient needs of our veterans guide ERHM implementation.