Tester, Blackburn Bringing 21st Century Care and Benefits to Veterans with Information Technology Oversight Bill

(U.S. Senate) – In an ongoing effort to bring 21st century care and benefits to veterans across the country, U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) are unveiling bipartisan legislation to improve the information technology (IT) system at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). 

The Senators today introduced the Department of Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act that holds VA accountable by increasing transparency into proposed and current IT spending on critical programs for veterans. The bill also ensures that veterans receive timely health care and benefits by requiring VA to institute a number of outstanding Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations related to planning, management, and operation of its Office of Information Technology (OIT). 

“Far too often, we hear that VA is unable to meet the technology standards necessary to serve our nation’s veterans,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “When veterans in Montana aren’t getting the benefits they earned because of insufficient planning or IT system failures at VA, we’ve got to hold them accountable. Our bipartisan bill does that by increasing transparency and ensuring VA has an IT department in place that can deliver 21st century technology systems that works for all veterans.” 

“We have to bring our veterans’ care into the 21st century,” said Senator Blackburn. “Congress appropriated the proper funds for updated technology, and those funds need to be used responsibly by the VA. I join Senator Tester in demanding that the VA improve its management of information technology projects and investments.”

For years, reports of failed IT projects at VA have hampered the delivery of medical care and benefits to veterans. As a result, VA’s IT program has remained on the GAO’s High-Risk List since 2015. VA continues to receive low compliance scores in many areas of the annual Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) scorecard.

The Department of Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act addresses these shortcomings by: 

·         Requiring VA to improve their IT budgeting processes by reporting significant budget variances and providing mitigation plans, creating expenditure plans for IT projects, and improving the accuracy and detail of the annual President’s Budget request.  

·         Prompting VA to act expeditiously with OMB’s Data Center Consolidation Initiative – improving VA’s FITARA compliance.

·         Instituting a number of outstanding GAO recommendations to improve OIT’s management and operation.

For fiscal year 2020, VA requested $4.3 billion for IT— up from $4.1 billion for fiscal year 2019. Tester has raised concerns that VA's budget request does not prioritize efforts to improve VA care through investments in medical personnel and infrastructure, and may shortchange critical IT efforts required to effectively implement major reforms - including the VA MISSION ActForever G.I. Bill, and electronic health record modernization.