News Column

Portman Examines Information Technology Programs to Improve Efficiency at VA

June 11, 2014



WASHINGTON, June 11 -- The office of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, issued the following news release:

Yesterday, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce, held a hearing examining the state of federal information technology (IT) projects, as well as the process by which they are solicited, monitored, and implemented.

In particular, Portman focused on IT issues plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and mismanagement in the scheduling process that has caused delayed care. He pressed witnesses on how IT mismanagement has contributed to this problem and asked how it could be fixed. A recent VA audit of 731 hospitals and clinics showed that 57,000 veterans have been waiting for more than 90 days for their first appointment and that in 70 percent of facilities examined there were instances in which scheduling staff used some alternative to the VA's electronic scheduling IT system.

Video of Portman's remarks and questions can be found here. Excerpts are below:

"We are here on a very important mission and that is to talk about the state of technology in the federal government and some of these technology projects, IT projects, have been problematic to say the least. We're here to look at some of those problems and see how we can fix them...

"We also need to look at the workforce. We need to be sure that we have some of the best technical folks possible to carry out some of these difficult projects that you have. We have seen this with VA recently. Mr. Warren, I'm sure we are going to talk about some of that in more detail, but from what we hear from press accounts and other sources, it sounds like the expertise of the staff has been part of the problem with the scheduling and with the IT issues...

"In 2013, just last year, an inspection concluded that staff members did not consistently and correctly use the...tracking systems. In clinics, more than half the schedulers reported that they had not received any training. My question to you is, do we have improperly trained schedulers here and, if so, why? And what are we going to do about it? An IT system's strengths, obviously, are irrelevant if the people charged with using the system can't interface with the system...

"There was plenty of evidence that we had a problem here, and it has come to light with these extreme examples, but really when you look back over the last ten years, GAO and your own IG have identified some of the problems and its difficulty in using this system...[In} certainly a lot of - 70 percent - of VA centers there were at least some instances of people going around the system, improper training, more than half the schedulers not receiving training. Why did we miss those flags?"

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