Lawmakers want answers on $543M tech contract bungled by the VA

May 11, 2018

Frustrated lawmakers took aim at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ handling of a troubled technology contract with Austin connections on May 8, demanding discipline for employees who might have bungled the $543 million contract and blasting the agency for its lack of transparency.

The 2012 contract, managed in part by Austin-based contracting officials, was supposed to allow the VA to digitally track hospital equipment to save money and keep unsterilized equipment out of operating rooms. But it has been beset by delays and accuracy problems, and the VA’s internal investigators recently concluded the department exercised poor oversight.

It’s the latest in a series of information technology blunders by the VA, and on May 8, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs also probed the failed “Catamaran” project, a $275 million contract to manage hospital supplies using predictive analytics that was terminated in 2016.

The stakes are set to get even higher. The VA might soon enter its largest IT contract ever, a proposed project to modernize health records that could cost up to $16 billion.

Lawmakers repeatedly asked VA representatives about who inside the department had been held responsible for the contract problems. Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich., demanded a list of all disciplinary action resulting from the RTLS and Catamaran contracts.

Tammy Czarnecki, the VA’s assistant deputy undersecretary for health for administrative operations, said she believed there had been “accountability throughout the entire process,” explaining: “I believe we held the vendor accountable as well as our own staff. … The staff was required to work through the process with the vendor.”

The contract was originally awarded to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Services, which has since become DXC Technology.

But lawmakers were livid that a 2016 settlement agreement—which reduced the number of facilities receiving the RTLS technology by almost half, delayed the contract at least a year and absolved the contractor of liability—had not been made available in full to the VA inspector general’s office.

When first proposed at the VA, the RTLS system was considered to be at the bleeding edge of new supply tracking technology, but that has since become increasingly common at hospitals and clinics across the country. Hewlett-Packard blamed problems with the contract’s poor performance on the VA’s weak Wi-Fi.

VA officials said that while the contract extension called for RTLS work to be finished by June, it now expects completion by the end of the year. The VA then plans to study the “return on investment” and study the project’s benefits before deciding whether to expand to remaining facilities.

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