Reports: VA Secretary Won’t Ask for IT Funding with Uncertainty Surrounding VistA

May 25, 2017
While many federal agencies saw cuts across the board in President Trump’s 2018 budget request this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) got a spending boost, albeit not related to information technology.

While many federal agencies—including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—saw cuts across the board in President Trump’s 2018 budget request this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) got a spending boost, albeit not related to information technology.

The President’s 2018 budget includes $186.5 billion in budget authority for VA in 2018, representing an increase of $6.4 billion, or 3.6 percent from 2017. But, according to a report that analyzed the VA section of Trump’s budget request in Federal News Radio, “The budget includes a $215 million cut to IT spending in the department in 2018.”

What’s more, that report noted, “The IT budget does not account for VA’s future modernization project, particularly its plans to either outsource the work to continue the department’s current Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) or buy a completely new off-the-shelf IT solution. [VA Secretary] David Shulkin said he’s on track to make a decision about VA’s future direction by July 1.”

Developed by the VA more than 30 years ago, the VistA currently serves more than 1,200 healthcare sites of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) throughout the U.S.  But, VistA is considered outdated and unable to meet with the changing healthcare IT landscape. In April, VA released two requests for information (RFI) related to potentially replacing or enhancing this archaic system. In one of those RFIs, VA said it was seeking information about commercial off the shelf replacements for VistA provided in a SaaS (software-as-a-service) model.

Meanwhile, Shulkin spoke in front of the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday discussing why he didn’t request more funding for IT. He told Congress that the reason for this was because he didn’t know which way VA would turn to address the continuing problem the department has had with IT. According to the Federal News Radio report, Shulkin said, “We do not want to continue to ask for more money and invest more money in fixing broken systems. We are not done with IT. We’re going to need to come back to you after I announce a direction by July 1 to be able to talk to you about what really needs to be done in modernizing our IT systems.”

Meanwhile, according to a Politico Morning eHealth report today, Shulkin also said that VA will be expanding its pilot use of Epic Systems’ scheduling software, with an announcement expected in a few weeks.

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