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VA career tool may be example for other agencies

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Veterans Affairs Department employees have had access to one of the government’s best career-development tools since October.

Soon, you may see something like it coming to your agency.

Last week, top VA officials demonstrated the tool — called MyCareer@VA — at a meeting of administration and union leaders.

“When you think about your own career, there are times that you want to figure out how to get ahead, but there are also times that you may feel like you’re stuck and want to do something else,” said VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould as he presented the website July 18 to a meeting of the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, led by Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry.

Gould and Alice Muellerweiss, dean of the VA Learning University, said the website helps employees hurdle common career setbacks.

“We know that the number one reason people leave their organizations is because they cannot see their path, they cannot chart their path, they can’t set their goals, and they don’t set up their development plan,” Muellerweiss said.

The website, MyCareerAtVA.va.gov, prompts employees to plug in their skills and experience and then provides them a variety of jobs throughout the department that — with some additional training and education — could be a fit for them down the road.

Among the website’s key features:

  • MyCareer Mapping Tool. This searches for jobs across multiple occupational families and outlines what competencies, knowledge areas and skills are needed to reach an employee’s career goal.
  • MyCareer Fit Tool. This helps match specific jobs to an employee’s self-identified career interests and work environment preferences.
  • VA Career Guides. This offers employees detailed profiles of suggested jobs and offices they might consider as future steps on their career paths. For each job, it outlines what education, licensing, recommended training, and developmental experiences are recommended, based on the user’s profile.

The website is still growing and developing. Its searchable jobs inventory is about 75 percent complete and VA managers aim to get that figure to 100 percent of mission-critical jobs by next April.

OPM’s Berry said some agencies are looking at adopting similar career-development tools and looking specifically at the VA tool as a possible role model.

To learn more about MyCareer@VA, view the video below:

Update: House subcommittee passes veterans data breach notification bill

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A House subcommittee on Wednesday passed a bill to ensure vets are quickly notified when their personal information is breached.

The Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act, , H.R. 3730, requires the Veterans Affairs Department to notify Congress and vets within 10 business days of their personal information being breached. VA could request a five-day extension if more time is needed to identify affected individuals or mitigate a breach.

VA contractors that handle vets’ personal information would be held to the same standards under the bill.

“In the unfortunate event of a breach of sensitive information, veterans and their families should be notified as soon as practically possible,” Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said in a statement.

“Current law, however, gives the VA a full thirty days to notify veterans that their personal information may have been compromised. That is too long.”

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VA to award health record contract to next qualified bidder

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The Veterans Affairs Department will not openly recompete a $102.6 million contract to manage a critical portion of its future integrated electronic health record (iEHR) system with the Defense Department.

Instead, VA will award the contract to the second most qualified bidder, said VA Spokeswoman Jo Schuda. The firm has not been named.

Last month, VA canceled the contract it had awarded to Fairfax, Va.-based ASM Research Inc. to manage a portion of the iEHR, called the enterprise service bus, which will allow various components of the future system to communicate with each other and with VA and DoD health information stored in data centers. The contract was awarded under VA’s $12 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4, program.

“This decision was based on the findings of an investigation by the government into an alleged organizational conflict of interest focused on the involvement of individuals from a subcontractor company on the ASM Research team,” the company said in a statement.

Schuda said the enterprise service bus is only part of the iEHR development, which includes more than 20 other projects that are underway.

“While we’re still assessing the exact impact on iEHR development, we believe it will be minimal,” she said.

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VA/DoD joint office gets new director

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Former Harris Corp. executive Barclay Butler has been appointed director of the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office (IPO), which oversees the agencies’ integrated electronic health record project and other joint initiatives.

Barclay, who served as vice president of healthcare operations for Harris’ Falls Church, Va., office, started work at the joint office on Feb. 27, DoD announced Tuesday. David Wennergren, DoD’s assistant deputy chief management officer, had been serving as interim director since July. The director position required approval from VA and DoD secretaries.

As director, Barclay is also the program executive for the iEHR and the health portion of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record (VLER) initiative, according to a charter signed by VA Deputy Secretary Scott Gould and then-Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn in October. Barclay must also acquire, develop and integrate “major joint DoD/VA health (information technology) capabilities for the iEHR and VLER health,” the charter said.

Barclay was appointed one day before VA canceled a $102.6 million contract to manage a critical portion of the iEHR. 

The contract was awarded on Jan. 13 to Fairfax, Va.-based ASM Research Inc. to manage a portion of the iEHR, called the enterprise service bus, which will allow various components of the future system to communicate with each other and with VA and DoD health information stored in data centers. The contract was awarded under VA’s $12 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4, program.

DoD and VA share a $700 million combined budget for the iEHR this fiscal year, and the joint program office is responsible for the program’s success, said VA’s Chief Information Office Roger Baker said in an interview last month.

The charter also tasks the office director with reporting staff shortages “for any areas that may impact the ability to deliver capabilities on schedule.” By 2014, the departments hope to provide a single virtual access point for health and benefits services. The program office will determine how many employees are needed to staff the office, and personnel working on office programs or initiatives will be evaluated by the director or deputy director.

 DoD would not say if a deputy director has been named.

“If they want to completely insulate themselves from any change issues relative to politics,” the joint office must meet every program milestone, Baker said.

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VA cancels critical contract for electronic health record

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The Veterans Affairs Department has canceled a $102.6 million contract to manage a critical portion of its future integrated electronic health record (iEHR) system with the Defense Department.

The contract was awarded on Jan. 13 to Fairfax, Va.-based ASM Research Inc. to manage a portion of the iEHR, called the enterprise service bus, which will allow various components of the future system to communicate with each other and with VA and DoD health information stored in data centers. The contract was awarded under VA’s $12 billion Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4, program.

VA Spokeswoman Jo Schuda confirmed that the contract was canceled on Feb. 28 but did not provide further details about what prompted the decision. It also isn’t clear how this will impact development of the new system.

In an interview with Federal Times this month, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said the enterprise service bus is “the heart of the iEHR.” “Everything will talk to it or through it.”

Baker said VA and DoD are still finalizing an estimated four- to five-year development plan for the iEHR. Development of the iEHR is tied to the larger Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record that will enable better sharing of veterans’ health and benefits data, but the iEHR is a separate program that requires its own oversight, Baker said.

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89% of VA’s IT projects delivered on time

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When the Veterans Affairs Department launched a program in 2009 to monitor the progress of its information technology projects, VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker thought he had set the bar high.

Baker challenged the IT staff to deliver 80 percent of all VA IT project milestones on schedule. At the time, less than 30 percent of IT projects were delivered on schedule, according to VA estimates.

In less than two years, VA has exceeded Baker’s goal.

Last fiscal year, 89 percent of IT project milestones were delivered on time, the agency said. The agency delivered 212 of 237 project milestones on time, including a pharmacy application to enhance the detection of potential adverse drug interactions and changes to speed processing of Post 9/11 GI Bill education claims. VA’s Performance Management and Accountability System (PMAS) tracked a total of 101 IT projects in 2011.

“It’s a massive example of a culture change that has taken real effect,” Baker said. “We’re there, [and] we intend to stay there.”

Baker expects VA will stay in the 80 to 90 percent range in terms of delivering IT projects on time, but Baker also wants his team to take some risks as well.

Shortly after launching PMAS in 2009 VA halted 45 IT projects and it credits $200 million in cost avoidance to the tracking program. Fiscal 2011 was the first year managers had a daily view of every IT project through PMAS.

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Friday Fun: Arts group plans monument to VA’s Harvey Pekar

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"American Splendor" writer and retired fed Harvey Pekar

Most public servants with monuments dedicated to them tend to be presidents, generals, or other great leaders. But Kickstarter, an online organization that raises money for independent and off-kilter art projects, is trying to raise money to honor an unlikely hero: the late comic book writer and Veterans Affairs Department file clerk Harvey Pekar.

The sarcastic and irritable Pekar chronicled his misadventures at the Cleveland VA in his long-running autobiographical series American Splendor until he died July 12, 2010. Oscar-winning actor Paul Giamatti played him in a 2003 adaptation of his comic.

Kickstarter wants to raise $30,000 to fund the Pekar monument at the Cleveland Heights Public Library where the writer sometimes liked to work. It would be a desk at which members of the public could sit and work on their own comics, and a bronze sculpture of Pekar stepping out of a comic book page.

So far, donors have pledged more than $6,000, and the project has until Dec. 5 to raise the remaining amount. Kickstarter is promising perks for the die-hard fans who donate thousands of dollars, such as a “near-complete” collection of Pekar’s comics, clothes worn by Pekar or Giamatti in the American Splendor movie, or a phone call from his widow.

If it works, this wouldn’t be the first unusual statue Kickstarter funded. Earlier this year, the organization raised more than enough to erect a Robocop statue in Detroit.

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VA CIO trades laptop for iPad

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The Veterans Affairs Department still plans to make iPads and iPhones available for use on its network by Oct. 1, Chief Information Officer Roger Baker said this week.

More than 100 workers–including Baker– are participating in pilot programs at VA hospitals across the country. Baker said he broke down and ditched his laptop for an iPad, “and it works pretty nice.” His tablet computer is connected to the network, and email data is stored on the device. Medical information will be encrypted and stored on an approved medical application.

But the main focus is the clinician because “that’s where the real demand comes from,” he said.

The data on Baker’s iPad is encrypted and secured by double password protection. “The only way that VA information is going to reside on the device is with that protection,” he said.


SAIC claims final spot on $12 billion VA contract

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Science Applications International Corp. was awarded the last spot on a $12 billion information technology contract by the Veterans Affairs Department, the agency said Tuesday.

VA awarded the contract on July 1 to 14 contractors — including Booz Allen Hamilton, Harris Corp. and Systems Research and Applications Corp. — out of more than 90 bidders to provide the department with systems and software engineering, cybersecurity, training and facilities support. The department awarded the last spot on its Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology contract to SAIC on Monday.

The 15th contract was on hold pending resolution of an earlier protest with the Government Accountability Office, but GAO dismissed the protest, VA said. It isn’t clear how GAO reached that decision, and the agency was not immediately available for comment. 

The VA contracting officer has three days to notify unsuccessful bidders, which had not happened as of Tuesday evening. Once notified, the losing bidders will have three days to request a debriefing.

Cy Alba, a senior associate with the government contract firm PilieroMazza PLLC, predicts there will be other protests once losing bidders request and receive their debriefings. They will have 10 days from the time they know or should have known the basis for their protest to launch a bid protest with GAO.


AFGE, VA sign collective bargaining agreement

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The American Federation of Government Employees and the Veterans Affairs Department today signed a new collective bargaining agreement that seeks to expand employees’ teleworking opportunities.

The national contract — which will cover more than 200,000 bargaining unit employees — also will increase protections for health care workers who are exposed to on-the-job hazards while treating wounded soldiers, AFGE said in a statement. It also clarifies employees’ rights and protections and calls for creating new training programs so employees can learn new skills, obtain new certifications and advance in their careers.

“This is a morale booster for our employees,” AFGE National President John Gage said. “A good contract behind our workers gives them the incentive to do their best work.”

This is the first master contract between AFGE and VA since 1997.

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