The efficient management of information technology (IT) systems is crucial for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide benefits and healthcare services to millions of veterans and their families. The VA heavily relies on IT systems and has obligated over $25 billion for IT procurement between fiscal years 2017 and 2021, making it one of the largest IT spenders among federal agencies. However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified concerning trends in IT contracting and management oversight within the VA.
In recent years, the VA has seen a significant increase in IT contract obligations, while the number of contractors receiving awards has decreased. From fiscal years 2017 through 2021, the VA’s total IT obligations grew by more than 50%. However, during the same period, the number of contractors receiving awards decreased by over 25%. This trend raises questions about the VA’s contracting practices and the impact on competition in the IT market.
GAO’s findings indicate that the VA’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) has not provided adequate oversight for IT procurement. In a study conducted in March 2023, GAO discovered that 39% of new IT contract actions awarded between March 2018 and September 2021 lacked evidence of CIO approval. Furthermore, out of the 26 selected contract actions from fiscal year 2021, 14 did not have CIO approvals. The absence of CIO oversight limits the opportunity for valuable input and guidance on IT procurement decisions.
One reason for the lack of CIO approval is the absence of automated controls in VA’s contracting systems to prompt contracting officers to seek CIO review. This lack of visibility into IT procurement processes hampers the CIO’s ability to provide necessary input and ensure compliance with applicable guidelines.
The VA’s challenges in managing IT projects extend beyond procurement. In 2015, GAO added VA health care to its High-Risk List due to persistent IT challenges. The department’s electronic health record modernization initiative, in particular, has experienced schedule delays. Since 2010, GAO has made 24 recommendations to address VA’s health care IT challenges, 22 of which remain open. Additionally, VA acquisition management was added to GAO’s High-Risk List in 2019 due to significant contract obligations and acquisition efficiency issues.
In its March 2023 report, GAO recommended that the VA implement automated controls in its contracting systems to ensure CIO review of IT procurements. The VA concurred with this recommendation. Since 2015, the VA has implemented 38 recommendations related to acquisition management, with 22 remaining open. Addressing these recommendations is vital to improving IT governance and mitigating risks associated with IT acquisitions.
The VA’s reliance on IT systems to fulfill its mission of providing benefits and healthcare to veterans necessitates effective IT contracting and management oversight. However, GAO’s observations highlight concerning trends in IT contracting, such as increased obligations to fewer contractors, and the need for enhanced management oversight. By implementing GAO’s recommendations and addressing open recommendations, the VA can strengthen its IT governance, enhance competition, and ensure the successful delivery of IT projects. Improving IT management will contribute to better services and outcomes for the veterans who rely on the VA’s support.
Use this link to locate the full report. Link to PDF for reference