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Ranking Member Walz: Leadership, Transparency, And Oversight Critical To Success Of VA Electronic Health Record Modernization

Jun 26, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN) released the following statement after the full Committee met in open session to conduct an oversight hearing regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) $16 billion Electronic Health Record (EHR) Modernization program.

“Veterans have waited decades for an electronic health record that is interoperable with DoD, and they deserve a system that works flawlessly,” said Rep Walz. “To get EHR modernization right for our nation’s veterans, it will take qualified leadership as well as complete transparency and oversight. That is why I am thankful for today’s hearing and for the creation of our new subcommittee dedicated to overseeing EHR modernization in addition to VA’s many other important IT initiatives.”

“However, I am deeply concerned by VA’s recent stonewalling of the VA Office of Inspector General (VA OIG), VA’s most central accountability and ethics watchdog. Last week, the Acting Secretary Peter O’Rourke refused to comply with a legitimate VA OIG request for documents pertaining to the Office of Oversight and Whistleblower Protecting (OAWP), even though VA OIG had every right to access those documents. The Acting Secretary also sent an unacceptable letter to VA Inspector General Michael Missal where he threatened the independence of VA OIG, stating:

‘You are reminded that VA OIG is loosely tethered to VA and in your specific case as the VA inspector general, I am your immediate supervisor. You are directed to act accordingly.’

“In doing so, Acting Secretary O’Rourke made an explicit attempt to deter VA OIG from carrying out its proper oversight duties. VA’s reluctance to cooperate with basic oversight requests is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

“I am also deeply concerned by President Trump’s failure to fill key VA leadership positions tasked with implementing EHR modernization. VA is currently without a permanent VA Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Undersecretary for Health, and a qualified Chief Information Officer. President Trump recently named Camilo Sandoval, an inexperienced campaign staffer accused of sexual harassment, to serve as VA’s Acting Chief Information Officer, the person tasked with carrying out VA’s $16 billion EHR overhaul.

“I have seen too many VA projects fail due to a lack of leadership, oversight, and transparency. It is clear VA must do better on all three. That is why I am calling on Acting Secretary O’Rourke to fulfill VA OIG’s requests today. If Acting Secretary O’Rourke fails to do so, I am prepared to ask the Committee to subpoena the information so VA OIG can access the information it needs.”

Background

Since 2001, VA has been seeking to modernize its existing VistA electronic heath records management system which has been in operation for over 30 years. In 2013, VA established VistA Evolution as a joint program between OI&T and VHA that was comprised of a collection of projects and efforts focused on improving the efficiency and quality of veterans’ health care. This program was to modernize the department’s health information systems, increase VA’s data exchange and interoperability capabilities with the Department of Defense (DOD) and private sector health care partners, and reduce VA’s time to deploy new health information management capabilities. According to GAO, VA obligated approximately $1.1 billion for contracts with 138 different contractors during fiscal years 2011 through 2016 for VistA Evolution and other modernization efforts.

In June 2017, Secretary Shulkin announced a complete shift in the Department’s approach to EHRM with the announcement that Cerner would replace VistA with a commercial electronic health record system. This new system will aim to support a broad range of health care functions that include, for example, acute care, clinical decision support, dental care, and emergency medicine. The new system is intended to also allow health record sharing with DOD. Unlike DOD, who is using Cerner as system developer and Leidos as the system integrator, VA has contracted with Cerner for both functions.

Witnesses

Peter O’Rourke

Acting Secretary

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

Accompanied by:

John Wyndam

Program Executive Officer, Electronic Health Record Modernization

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

John Short

Chief Technology Officer, Electronic Health Record Modernization

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

Dr. Ashwini Zenooz

Chief Medical Officer, Electronic Health Record Modernization

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

Brent Shafer

Cerner Corporation

 

David Powner

Director, Information Technology Management Issues

U.S. Government Accountability Office

 

Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono

Director

Defense Health Agency

U.S. Department of Defense

 

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