The electronic medical records system developed by the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department was praised at a Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing held yesterday to scrutinize a $2.1 billion plan to upgrade VA computers, software and information technology in fiscal 2006. But other VA information technology programs received quite the opposite treatment, with committee Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), the committee's chairman, criticizing the department for having "blown away" hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years on failed IT projects.
In particular, Craig noted the $342 million failure of the financial management system tested at the Bay Pines Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla. "Taxpayers spent hundreds of millions of dollars and the VA spent thousands of man hours," Craig said in his opening remarks. "Still, at the end of the day, taxpayers and VA had nothing to show for it. Clearly Congress cannot continue to fund failures, especially one on that scale." The ranking Democrat on the panel, Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, also noted the Bay Pines project, known as the Core Financial and Logistics System, or CoreFLS. A committee press release also made mention of $600 million spent on a compensation and pension claims-processing system that has yet to be implemented.
Under appropriations legislation passed by both houses of Congress and now being addressed in a conference committee, the VA would be required to submit quarterly spending reports. The bill also withholds money to pay for IT to be used in the VA's Health-e-Vet project until the VA IT management department is reorganized. Health-e-Vet is the name given to the updated version being developed to replace the VA's Vista EMR system which senators praised for its dependability in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.