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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Companies seeking preferential treatment as veteran-owned or small businesses will first have to verify their status with the Veterans Affairs Department.
Under the 2010 Veterans Benefits Act, VA has greater responsibilities to ensure that businesses competing for set-aside contracts are eligible.
This applies to companies currently listed in VA’s Vendor Information Pages database. Since mid-December, the agency has contacted more than 13,000 businesses by e-mail and mail to notify them of the new deadline.
Companies have 90 days to submit documentation to VA upon notification, or they will not be listed in the database, VA announced Monday. The verification process requires businesses to provide a list of all owners, the percentage of ownership for each person and other relevant information.
“Although the verification process may initially be a challenge to some small business owners and to VA, it’s a necessary step to eliminate misrepresentation by firms trying to receive contracts that should go to service-disabled and other Veteran-owned vendors,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in a news release.
Similar requirements will extend to businesses not listed in VA’s database once those in the database are notified.
The announcement follows the temporary suspension last year of three Washington-area firms for alleged abuse of small-business set-aside rules.
Information technology vendor GTSI has since resumed new federal business, but suspensions for EG Solutions and MultimaxArray FirstSource have not been lifted.
A recently launched six-month pilot at the Veterans Affairs Department is intended to reduce the time it takes to collect veterans’ health records from private physicians.
VA awarded Virginia-based DOMA Technologies, LLC a six-month, $384,000 contract to aid in collecting records needed to process veterans’ claims for disability benefits.
“We are committed to harnessing the best technology and the brightest minds in the government and private sector to ensure veterans receive the benefits they have earned,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, said in a news release.
Wayne Zinn, DOMA’s chief operating officer, said the pilot is off to a strong start.
More than 60 percent of physicians respond after the first request for records, sometimes the same day, Zinn said.
By hiring the support of a contractor, VA expects to reduce the collection process from an average 40 days to seven or 10 days. This will also allow VA staff to work on “core duties to process claims more quickly,” according the VA news release.
Exploring economical contract support for time savings is one of more than three dozen initiatives supporting VA’s claims transformation plan, which aims to ensure that by 2015, Veterans’ claims are decided within 125 days.
Here’s how it works: Medical records are retrieved by mail, fax or scanned copies and converted into a PDF file that DOMA sends via secure Internet to select regional benefits offices.
The pilot has launched at offices in Phoenix; New York City; St. Louis; Portland, Ore.; Chicago; Anchorage, Ala.; Indianapolis, and Jackson, Miss.
This is one of several initiatives the VA has launched to decide veterans’ claims within 125 days by 2015.
Veterans can now access their medical history through a web-based tool called “Blue Button,” the Obama administration announced on Thursday.
The application is available at the Veterans Affairs Department website. Vets can log on to myhealth.va.gov and access an electronic copy of their medical history for personal use or to share with doctors outside of the VA. Records include emergency contact information, family health history and test results.
Medicare recipients can download or print a text file of their claims and similar health information on mymedicare.gov.
“Blue Button will be accessible to all My HealtheVet accounts—about one million Veterans in all—as well as 47 million Medicare enrollees,” according to a White House news release.
The Blue Button app should be getting an upgrade soon. Through a partnership between the Markle and Robert Wood Johnson Foundations developers were challenged to create applications that enhance the tool.
Adobe’s Blue Button Health Assistant was chosen out of 18 contestants to receive $2,500 and a coffee date with author Clay Shirky. The app provides a more user-friendly layout and better links health and claims data among patients and providers.
Users may soon be able to manipulate the record once it’s stored on their personal computers or transferred to pharmacies, lab systems and electronic medical record systems.
Harvey Pekar, the sarcastic and irritable writer who chronicled his life and experiences as a Veterans Affairs Department file clerk in the underground comic book American Splendor, was found dead this morning at age 70.
Pekar’s darkly humorous comic was about as far from standard superhero fare as could be. Besides his misadventures at the Cleveland VA, he wrote about his everyday troubles and anxieties, battles with cancer, family life, and love of jazz. But although his collaborations with artists such as Robert Crumb brought him fame (and several notorious appearances on David Letterman’s show), Pekar had to keep working at the VA to earn his salary and pension until he retired in 2001. As the comics blog The Beat wryly notes, “indie comics was not a cash cow.”
In 2003, actor Paul Giamatti played Pekar in an Oscar-nominated film adaptation of his comic. Videos of Pekar’s verbal duels with Letterman are after the jump.
The Office of Management and Budget is going to announce today that it’s halting all financial systems modernization projects across the government.
That means 30 projects worth $20 billion are now effectively on hold until OMB can come up with a way to improve the procurement process in this area.
The most well-known failure in this area is the Veterans Affairs Department’s CoreFLS project (since replaced by a new program called FLITE that hasn’t gone much better). The department has spent a total of about $300 million on this boondoggle over 10 years and has seen no tangible benefits.
Jeff Zeints, OMB’s deputy director for management, is going to take four months to develop guidance on how to improve the federal procurement process for information technology. This is a source of frequent complaints from IT and acquisition officials — the government process is just too slow to keep up with rapid advancements in IT.
OMB is having a conference call in about a half hour to discuss its strategy — we’ll have an update for you later this afternoon.