This approach "has been very, very instructive and a very powerful tool in restoring confidence in our ability to do IT," VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould said in an interview with Nextgov.com. "We have a commitment to deliver on cost and on schedule." Gould, a former vice president for public sector strategy at IBM Global Business Services, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, and Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said such IT oversight is critical to supporting the nation's veterans.
When done properly, technological innovation enables the department to more easily provide medical care, benefits and social support to vets, Gould added.
VA has been appraising the suspended projects to determine whether it should spend more money to get them back on track or terminate them. Many projects were more than a year behind schedule.
Of the 45 projects flagged, VA gave 17 a second chance to meet their next milestone and nearly all hit their target dates.
The appraisals are part of a new project assessment method aimed at holding IT investments accountable to the taxpayer. The Project Management Accountability System halts programs that fail to meet incremental milestones.
Project components must be delivered in six-month increments, at most, to ensure small problems are caught and fixed before they worsen. If a program misses three milestones, it must be stopped and replanned. A program can be restarted only after the department has reevaluated the need for the initiative and replaced the program manager, contractors and some government personnel.
Thirteen of the projects frozen this summer have been restarted.
During the next year, all IT programs within VA will move to the new project development system. In June, the department began requiring new initiatives to go through the system.
VA plans to quantify project progression on a public site that would be similar to the White House IT site, the IT Dashboard, department officials said. The funding and statistics would be explained in context so citizens unfamiliar with the complex federal IT procurement process can understand where their tax dollars are going.
Separately on Tuesday, federal auditors released a report saying that a VA financial management system risks failure. VA has been overhauling its automated financial and asset management operations since 2005.
"The pilot for VA's new asset management system has experienced a two-month schedule delay just five months after award of the contract," stated the Government Accountability Office report. "While VA has recently taken steps to address the staffing shortages that have substantially contributed to this delay, it has not yet fully established the management capability necessary for [the system] to be successful."
The contractor missed the deadline for initiating and completing planned tasks and delivering products such as a system security plan, the report added.
The department has filled nearly all long-standing staff vacancies but has yet to develop a cost estimate that includes total program expenses and independently verify that estimate, GAO said. VA also has not established a reliable schedule or aligned system requirements to meet its business needs.
VA officials agreed with the report's recommendations and detailed steps to address them, according to GAO. Auditors responded that if VA properly implements the steps, the department should be in a better position to effectively manage its financial IT program.