House VA Committee Holds IT Hearing on IT, Shulkin Cleared for Senate Confirmation Vote

On Tuesday, February 7th the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled “Assessing the VA IT Landscape: Progress and Challenges.” The hearing featured two witnesses, Mr. Rob Thomas, Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Assistant Secretary for Information Technology and Mr. David Powner, Director of IT Management with the Government Accountability Office (GAO). The hearing was an opportunity for the Committee to review the VA’s IT modernization efforts, including VistA modernization, the possible acquisition of a commercial off-the-shelf EHR, DoD-VA interoperability, and upgrades to the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS). 

Both Chairman Phil Roe (R-TN) and Ranking Member Tim Walz (D-MN), during the hearing, suggested that the VA pursue a commercial off-the-shelf EHR instead of continuing the current course with VistA. Rep. Walz went as far as suggesting the VA purchase the same EHR system the DoD will be using. In response to questioning about the cost-benefit of continuing to modernize VistA instead of going commercial, Mr. Thomas readily admitted that the VA has “not had a good track record in developing software” and stated that the VA would go “commercial to the greatest extent possible.”

Members of the Committee also pressed Mr. Thomas on VA interoperability, with several members stating that the VA needs to be interoperable with both the DoD and private sector providers. In response to several Member complaints over the VA “moving the goal-posts” on IT modernization efforts, Mr. Powner (GAO) suggested the “VA establish baselines and provide the committee with quarterly updates,” a suggestion which was well received by the committee.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted unanimously to approve President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Dr. David Shulkin. Dr. Shulkin’s nomination will now move to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.