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U.S. Report

Congress decimates the VA’s IT budget plans

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The House Appropriations Committee has cut US$383 million from the government’s request for a US$385.7 million increase in the IT budget for the Veteran’s Administration, money that was proposed for the agency’s HealtheVet project.

A recent report by Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute on the HealtheVet project showed serious flaws in program design and a lack of knowledge among staff designated to lead the creation of the system. The report was commissioned after the failure of the Core Financial and Logistics System at the VA last year – the VA pulled the plug on the US$372 million progam after the pilot didn’t work as planned.

Lawmakers left HealtheVet with $11 million from the overall IT budget for a feasibility and planning study. VA had planned on $311 million as the first installment of a proposed $3.5 billion, 10-year program. Now, the program could be delayed by at least a year.

The House committee also cut $40 million for the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture legacy hospital system, which HealtheVet is expected to modernize. Lawmakers also shaved $30 million from the CoreFLS project and from VA’s computing infrastructure.

The requested increase, most of it tied to one project, has not been adequately justified in the budget or in responses to questions asked during the budget hearing earlier this year, the committee said in its report.

The committee approved $68.1 billion in overall spending for VA programs, healthcare and construction in the Military Quality of Life and VA spending bill earlier in May, $700 million more than what President Bush proposed in his 2006 budget request. Next, the full House will next vote on the legislation.

HealtheVet is a Web system designed to replace the VistA program, an electronic medical-records and clinical-care system used by more than 1,000 medical facilities at the Veteran’s Administration. The VA plans to re-host, enhance or re-engineer VistA and other current health information applications to process on the new platform but keep the same functionality.