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WASHINGTON, DC —  Senator John Thune has introduced legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to consolidate its information technology (IT) projects in the hands of the VA's chief information officer (CIO). The bill is a response to the failure of several expensive IT projects at the VA, and is nearly identical to a measure passed in the House of Representatives earlier this month by a vote of 408-0.

"As a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, I understand that the VA has had some IT success stories, such as its electronic medical records system," Thune said. "However, the fact remains that the VA has chronic problems with managing its IT programs, resulting in the waste of huge amounts of taxpayer dollars."

Despite spending $600 million over 10 years on a claims processing project, the VA has yet to implement such a system. The VA has also spent $342 million on a failed financial management system, as well as $300 million on a failed automated personnel system. "If these problems continue, it will only result in further waste of money that our veterans can ill afford to lose in the current budget environment," Thune continued. "That is why I believe the House has made the right move by passing a bill to streamline and centralize the VA's IT management, and I will work hard to get the legislation passed in the Senate."

Thune's bill is S. 2001, the Department of Veterans Affairs Information Technology Management Improvement Act of 2005. Except for a minor technical change, it is identical to legislation introduced by the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, which passed overwhelmingly on the House floor. Senator Thune's bill would consolidate the authority and control of the CIO over budget, resources, and personnel related to IT for the VA. The legislation would also require strict oversight procedures for IT expenditures by the VA.

Currently, there are three IT functions within the VA, each developed and managed respectively by the three organizations within the VA (the Veterans Health Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the National Cemetery Administration). According to the House report on its bill, an independent consultant hired by the VA concluded that the VA's IT budgets are very fluid, without much accountability on how and when funds are spent. The same consultant stated in a House hearing that the VA could save more than $345 million annually (over $1.7 billion over the next five years) by centralizing its IT organization structure. However, the VA opted for an alternative that would still not organize all VA IT systems into a single entity reporting to a CIO. As a consequence, Senator Thune's legislation would require the VA to implement the centralized organization structure suggested by the VA's independent consultant and passed by the House of Representatives.