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Testimony Subcommittee On Oversight and Investigations, House Committee 
on Veterans' Affairs: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

For Release on Delivery Expected at 12:30 a.m. EST: 

Wednesday, February 13, 2008: 

Information Technology: 

VA Has Taken Important Steps to Centralize Control of Its Resources, 
but Effectiveness Depends on Additional Planned Actions: 

Statement of Valerie C. Melvin, Director, Human Capital and Management 
Information Systems Issues: 

GAO-08-449T: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-08-449T, a testimony before the Subcommittee on 
Oversight and Investigations, House Committee on Veteransí Affairs. 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The use of information technology (IT) is crucial to the Department of 
Veterans Affairsí (VA) mission to promote the health, welfare, and 
dignity of all veterans in recognition of their service to the nation. 
In this regard, the departmentís fiscal year 2009 budget proposal 
includes about $2.4 billion to support IT development, operations, and 
maintenance. VA has, however, experienced challenges in managing its IT 
projects and initiatives, including cost overruns, schedule slippages, 
and performance problems. In an effort to confront these challenges, 
the department is undertaking a realignment to centralize its IT 
management structure. 

This testimony summarizes the departmentís actions to realign its 
management structure to provide greater authority and accountability 
over its IT budget and resources and the impact of these actions to 
date. 

In developing this testimony, GAO reviewed previous work on the 
departmentís realignment and related budget issues, analyzed pertinent 
documentation, and interviewed VA officials to determine the current 
status and impact of the departmentís efforts to centralize the 
management of its IT budget and operations. 

What GAO Found: 

As part of its IT realignment, VA has taken important steps toward a 
more disciplined approach to ensuring oversight of and accountability 
for the departmentís IT budget and resources. For example, the 
departmentís chief information officer (CIO) now has responsibility for 
ensuring that there are controls over the budget and for overseeing all 
capital planning and execution, and has designated leadership to assist 
in overseeing functions such as portfolio management and IT operations. 
In addition, the department has established and activated three 
governance boards to facilitate budget oversight and management of its 
investments. Further, VA has approved an IT strategic plan that aligns 
with priorities identified in the departmentís strategic plan and has 
provided multi-year budget guidance to achieve a more disciplined 
approach for future budget formulation and execution. 

While these steps are critical to establishing control of the 
departmentís IT, it remains too early to assess their overall impact 
because most of the actions taken have only recently become operational 
or have not been fully implemented. Thus, their effectiveness in 
ensuring accountability for the resources and budget has not yet been 
clearly established. For example, according to Office of Information 
and Technology officials, the governance boardsí first involvement in 
budget oversight only recently began (in May 2007) with activities to 
date focused primarily on formulation of the fiscal year 2009 budget 
and on execution of the fiscal year 2008 budget. Thus, none of the 
boards has yet been involved in all aspects of the budget formulation 
and execution processes and, as a result, their ability to help ensure 
overall accountability for the departmentís IT appropriations has not 
yet been fully established. In addition, because the multi-year 
programming guidance is applicable to future budgets (for fiscal years 
2010 through 2012), it is too early to determine VAís effectiveness in 
implementing this guidance. Further, VA is in the initial stages of 
developing management processes that are critical to centralizing its 
control over the budget. However, while the department had originally 
stated that the processes would be implemented by July 2008, it now 
indicates that implementation across the department will not be 
completed until at least 2011. Until VA fully institutes its oversight 
measures and management processes, it risks not realizing their 
contributions to, and impact on, improved IT oversight and 
accountability within the department. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
[hyperlink, http://www.GAO-08-449T]. For more information, contact 
Valerie C. Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or melvinv@gao.gov. 

[End of section] 

Abbreviations: 

CIO: chief information officer: 

IT: information technology: 

VA: Department of Veterans' Affairs: 

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee: 

Thank you for inviting me to participate in today's hearing on the 
Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) fiscal year 2009 information 
technology (IT) budget. As you know, the use of IT is crucial to 
helping VA effectively serve our nation's veterans, with the 
department's just-released budget proposal including approximately $2.4 
billion to support IT development, operations, and maintenance. 
However, as we have previously reported, VA has experienced challenges 
in managing its IT projects and initiatives, including cost overruns, 
schedule slippages, and performance problems. To address these 
challenges, in October 2005, the department initiated a realignment of 
its IT program to provide greater authority and accountability over its 
resources. In undertaking this realignment, the department's goals were 
to centralize IT management under the department-level chief 
information officer (CIO) and to standardize budgets, operations, and 
the development of systems through the use of new management processes 
based on industry best practices. 

At your request, my testimony today summarizes VA's actions as part of 
the realignment and the impact of those actions to date in providing 
greater authority and accountability over the department's IT resources 
and budget. In developing this testimony, we reviewed our previous work 
on the department's realignment and related budget issues. We also 
obtained and analyzed pertinent documentation and supplemented our 
analysis with interviews of responsible VA officials to determine the 
current status and impact of the department's efforts to centralize the 
management of its IT budget and operations. We conducted our work in 
support of this testimony from January 2008 to February 2008 in the 
Washington, D.C., area. All work on which this testimony is based was 
conducted in accordance with generally accepted government auditing 
standards. 

Results in Brief: 

As part of its IT realignment, VA has taken important steps toward a 
more disciplined approach to ensuring oversight of and accountability 
for the department's IT budget and resources. For example, to establish 
controls, the CIO has designated necessary leadership to be responsible 
for developing the department's annual IT budget and for tracking 
actual expenditures against the budget. In addition, the department has 
established and activated three governance boards to facilitate budget 
oversight and the management of its investments. Further, VA has 
approved an IT strategic plan[Footnote 1] that aligns with priorities 
identified in the department's strategic plan, and has provided multi- 
year budget guidance to achieve a more disciplined approach for future 
budget formulation and execution. Beyond these actions, VA is in the 
initial stages of implementing new management processes that are 
critical to centralizing its control over the IT resources and budget. 

While these steps are critical to establishing control of the 
department's IT, it remains too early to assess their overall impact 
because most of the actions taken have only recently become operational 
or have not yet been fully implemented. Thus, their effectiveness in 
ensuring accountability for the resources and budget has not yet been 
clearly established. For example, according to Office of Information 
and Technology officials, the governance boards' first involvement in 
budget oversight only recently began in May 2007, with their activities 
to date focused primarily on formulation of the fiscal year 2009 budget 
and execution of the fiscal year 2008 budget. However, none of the 
boards has yet been involved in all stages of the budget formulation 
and execution processes and, as such, their effectiveness in helping to 
ensure overall accountability for the department's IT budget and 
resources has not yet been fully established. In addition, because the 
multi-year programming guidance is applicable to future budgets (for 
fiscal years 2010 through 2012), it is too early to determine VA's 
effectiveness in implementing this guidance and its impact on improved 
oversight and accountability. Further, while the department has 
initiated its development of management processes that are critical to 
centralizing its control over the IT budget, the date by which it had 
planned to complete the implementation of these processes across the 
department has slipped from July 2008 to at least fiscal year 2011. 
Until VA fully institutes its oversight measures and management 
processes, it risks not realizing their contributions to, and impact 
on, improved IT oversight and accountability within the department. 

Background: 

VA's mission is to promote the health, welfare, and dignity of all 
veterans in recognition of their service to the nation by ensuring that 
they receive medical care, benefits, social support, and lasting 
memorials. Over time, the use of IT has become increasingly crucial to 
the department's efforts to provide such benefits and services. For 
example, the department relies on its systems for medical information 
and records for veterans, as well as for processing benefit claims, 
including compensation and pension and education benefits. 

In reporting on VA's IT management over the past several 
years,[Footnote 2] we have highlighted challenges that the department 
has faced in achieving its "One VA" vision,[Footnote 3] including that 
information systems and services were highly decentralized and that its 
administrations controlled a majority of the IT budget. For example, we 
noted that, according to an October 2005 memorandum from the former CIO 
to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the CIO had direct control over 
only 3 percent of the department's IT budget and 6 percent of the 
department's IT personnel. In addition, in the department's fiscal year 
2006 IT budget request, the Veterans Health Administration was 
identified to receive 88 percent of the requested funding, while the 
department was identified to receive only 4 percent. We have previously 
pointed out that, given the department's large IT funding and 
decentralized management structure, it was crucial for the CIO to 
ensure that well-established and integrated processes for leading, 
managing, and controlling investments were followed throughout the 
department.[Footnote 4] 

Further, a contractor's assessment of VA's IT organizational alignment, 
issued in February 2005, noted the lack of control for how and when 
money is spent.[Footnote 5] The assessment found that project managers 
within the administrations were able to shift money as they wanted to 
build and operate individual projects. In addition, according to the 
assessment, the focus of department-level management was only on 
reporting expenditures to the Office of Management and Budget and 
Congress, rather than on managing these expenditures within the 
department. 

VA Establishes Centralized Management Structure to Improve IT 
Accountability: 

The department officially began its initiative to provide the CIO with 
greater authority over the department's IT in October 2005. At that 
time, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs issued an executive decision 
memorandum that granted approval for the development of a new 
centralized management structure for the department. According to VA, 
its goals in moving to centralized management included having better 
overall fiscal discipline over the budget. 

In February 2007, the Secretary approved the department's new 
management structure. In this new structure, the Assistant Secretary 
for Information and Technology serves as VA's CIO and is supported by a 
principal deputy assistant secretary and five deputy assistant 
secretaries--senior leadership positions created to assist the CIO in 
overseeing functions such as cyber security, IT portfolio management, 
and systems development and operations. In April 2007, the Secretary 
approved a governance plan[Footnote 6] that is intended to enable the 
Office of Information and Technology, under the leadership of the CIO, 
to centralize its decision making. The plan describes the relationship 
between IT and departmental governance and the approach the department 
intends to take to enhance governance and realize more cost-effective 
use of IT resources and assets. The department also made permanent the 
transfer of its entire IT workforce under the CIO, consisting of 
approximately 6,000 personnel from the administrations. 

In June 2007,[Footnote 7] we reported on the department's plans for 
realigning the management of its IT program and establishing 
centralized control of its IT budget within the Office of Information 
and Technology. We pointed out that the department's realignment plans 
included elements of several factors that we identified as critical to 
a successful transition, but that additional actions could increase 
assurance that the realignment would be completed successfully. 
Specifically, we reported that the department had ensured commitment 
from its top leadership and that, among other critical actions, it was 
establishing a governance structure to manage resources. However, at 
that time, VA had not updated its strategic plan to reflect the new 
organization. In addition, we noted that the department had planned to 
take action by July 2008 to create the necessary management processes 
to realize a centralized IT management structure.[Footnote 8] In 
testimony before the House Veterans' Affairs Committee last September, 
however, we pointed out that the department had not kept pace with its 
schedule for implementing the new management processes.[Footnote 9] 

Important Steps Taken to Centralize Control of IT Resources but Their 
Effectiveness Will Depend on Additional Planned Actions: 

As part of its IT realignment, VA has taken important steps toward a 
more disciplined approach to ensuring oversight of and accountability 
for the department's IT budget and resources. Within the new 
centralized management structure, the CIO is responsible for ensuring 
that there are adequate controls over the department's IT budget and 
for overseeing capital planning and execution. These responsibilities 
are consistent with the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996,[Footnote 10] which 
requires federal agencies to develop processes for the selection, 
control, and evaluation of major systems initiatives. In this regard, 
the department has (1) designated organizations with specific roles and 
responsibilities for controlling the budget to report directly to the 
CIO; (2) implemented an IT governance structure that assigns budget 
oversight responsibilities to specific governance boards; (3) finalized 
an IT strategic plan to guide, manage, and implement its operations and 
investments; (4) completed multi-year budget guidance to improve 
management of its IT; and (5) initiated the implementation of critical 
management processes. However, while VA has taken these important steps 
toward establishing control of the department's IT, it remains too 
early to assess their overall impact because most of the actions taken 
have only recently become operational or have not yet been fully 
implemented. Thus, their effectiveness in ensuring accountability for 
the resources and budget has not yet been clearly established. 

As one important step, two deputy assistant secretaries under the CIO 
have been assigned responsibility for managing and controlling 
different aspects of the IT budget. Specifically, the Deputy Assistant 
Secretary for Information Technology Enterprise Strategy, Policy, 
Plans, and Programs is responsible for development of the budget and 
the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information Technology Resource 
Management is responsible for overseeing budget execution, which 
includes tracking actual expenditures against the budget. Initially, 
the deputy assistant secretaries have served as a conduit for 
information to be used by the governance boards. 

As a second step, the department has established and activated three 
governance boards to facilitate budget oversight and management of its 
investments. The Business Needs and Investment Board;[Footnote 11] the 
Planning, Architecture, Technology and Services Board;[Footnote 12] and 
the Information Technology Leadership Board[Footnote 13] have begun 
providing oversight to ensure that investments align with the 
department's strategic plan and that business and budget requirements 
for ongoing and new initiatives meet user demands.[Footnote 14] One of 
the main functions of the boards is to designate funding according to 
the needs and requirements of the administrations and staff offices. 
Each board meets monthly, and sometimes more frequently, as the need 
arises during the budget development phase. 

The first involvement of the boards in VA's budget process began with 
their participation in formulating the fiscal year 2009 budget. As part 
of the budget formulation process, in May 2007 the Business Needs and 
Investment Board conducted its first meeting in which it evaluated the 
list of business projects being proposed in the budget using the 
department's Exhibit 300s[Footnote 15] for fiscal year 2009, and made 
departmentwide allocation recommendations. Then in June, these 
recommendations were passed on to the Planning, Architecture, 
Technology, and Services Board, which proposed a new structure for the 
fiscal year 2009 budget request. The recommended structure was to 
provide visibility to important initiatives and enable better 
communication of performance results and outcomes. In late June, based 
on input from the aforementioned boards, the Information Technology 
Leadership Board made recommendations to department decision makers for 
funding the major categories of IT projects. In July 2007, following 
its work on the fiscal year 2009 budget formulation, the boards then 
began monitoring fiscal year 2008 budget execution. 

However, according to Office of Information and Technology officials, 
with the governance boards' first involvement in budget oversight 
having only recently begun (in May 2007), and with their activities to 
date being primarily focused on formulation of the fiscal year 2009 
budget and execution of the fiscal year 2008 budget, none of the boards 
has yet been involved in all stages of the budget formulation and 
execution processes. Thus, they have not yet fully established their 
effectiveness in helping to ensure overall accountability for the 
department's IT appropriations. In addition, the Office of Information 
and Technology has not yet standardized the criteria that the boards 
are to use in reviewing, selecting, and assessing investments. The 
criteria is planned to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2008 and 
to be used as part of the fiscal year 2010 budget discussions. 

Office of Information and Technology officials stated that, in response 
to operational experience with the 2009 budget formulation and 2008 
budget execution, the department plans to further enhance the 
governance structure. For example, the Office of Information and 
Technology found that the boards' responsibilities needed to be more 
clearly defined in the IT governance plan to avoid confusion in roles. 
That is, one board (the Business Needs and Investment Board) was 
involved in the budget formulation for fiscal year 2009, but budget 
formulation is also the responsibility of the Deputy Assistant 
Secretary for Information Technology Resource Management, who is not a 
member of this board. According to the Principal Deputy Assistant 
Secretary for Information and Technology, the department is planning to 
update its governance plan by September 2008 to include more 
specificity on the role of the governance boards in the department's 
budget formulation process. Such an update could further improve the 
structure's effectiveness. In addition, as part of improving the 
governance strategy, the department has set targets by which the 
Planning, Architecture, Technology, and Services Board is to review and 
make departmentwide recommendations for VA's portfolio of investments. 
These targets call for the board to review major IT projects included 
in the fiscal year budgets. For example, the board is expected to 
review 10 percent for fiscal year 2008, 50 percent for fiscal year 
2009, and 100 percent for fiscal year 2011. 

As a third step in establishing oversight, in December 2007, VA 
finalized an IT strategic plan to guide, manage, and implement its 
operations and investments. This plan (for fiscal years 2006-2011) 
aligns Office of Information and Technology goals, priorities, and 
initiatives with the priorities of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, 
as identified in the VA strategic plan for fiscal years 2006-2011. In 
addition, within the plan, the IT strategic goals are aligned with the 
CIO's IT priorities, as well as with specific initiatives and 
performance measures. This alignment frames the outcomes that IT 
executives and managers are expected to meet when delivering services 
and solutions to veterans and their dependents. Further, the plan 
includes a performance accountability matrix that highlights the 
alignment of the goals, priorities, initiatives, and performance 
measures, and an expanded version of the matrix designates specific 
entities within the Office of Information and Technology who are 
accountable for implementation of each initiative. The matrix also 
establishes goals and time lines through fiscal year 2011,[Footnote 16] 
which should enable VA to track progress and suggest midcourse 
corrections and sustain progress toward the realignment. As we 
previously reported, it is essential to establish and track 
implementation goals and establish a timeline to pinpoint performance 
shortfalls and gaps and suggest midcourse corrections.[Footnote 17] 

As a fourth step, the department has completed multi-year budget 
guidance to improve management of its IT portfolio. In December 2007, 
the CIO disseminated this guidance for the fiscal years 2010 through 
2012 budgets. The purpose of the guidance is to provide general 
direction for proposing comprehensive multi-year IT planning proposals 
for centralized review and action. The process called for project 
managers to submit standardized concept papers and other review 
documentation in December 2007 for review in the January to March 2008 
time frame, to decide which projects will be included in the fiscal 
year 2010 portfolio of IT projects. The new process is to add rigor and 
uniformity to the department's investment approach and allow the 
investments to be consistently evaluated for alignment with the 
department's strategic planning and priorities and the enterprise 
architecture. According to VA officials, this planning approach is 
expected to allow for reviewing proposals across the department and for 
identifying opportunities to maximize investments in IT. 

Nevertheless, although the multi-year programming guidance holds 
promise for obtaining better information for portfolio management, the 
guidance has not been fully implemented because it is applicable to 
future budgets (for fiscal years 2010 through 2012). As a result, it is 
too early to determine VA's effectiveness in implementing this 
guidance, and ultimately, its impact on the department's IT portfolio 
management. 

Finally, the department has begun developing new management processes 
to establish the CIO's control over the IT budget. The department's 
December 2007 IT strategic plan identifies three processes as high 
priorities for establishing the foundation of the budget functions: 
project management, portfolio management, and service level agreements. 

However, while the department had originally stated that its new 
management processes would be implemented by July 2008, the IT 
strategic plan indicates that key elements of these processes are not 
expected to be completed until at least fiscal year 2011. Specifically, 
the plan states that the project and portfolio management processes are 
to be completed by fiscal year 2011, and does not assign a completion 
date for the service level agreement process. As our previous report 
noted, it is crucial for the CIO to ensure that well-established and 
integrated processes are in place for leading, managing, and 
controlling VA's IT resources. The absence of such processes increases 
the risk to the department's ability to achieve a solid and sustainable 
management structure that ensures effective IT accountability and 
oversight. 

Appendix I provides a timeline of the various actions that the 
department has undertaken and planned for the realignment. 

In summary, while the department has made progress with implementing 
its centralized IT management approach, effective completion of its 
realignment and implementation of its improved processes is essential 
to ensuring that VA has a solid and sustainable approach to managing 
its IT investments. Because most of the actions taken by VA have only 
recently become operational, it is too early to assess their overall 
impact. Until the department carries out its plans to add rigor and 
uniformity to its investment approach and establishes a comprehensive 
set of improved management processes, the department may not achieve a 
sustainable and effective approach to managing its IT investments. 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, this concludes my 
statement. I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you may 
have at this time. 

Contacts and Acknowledgments: 

For more information about this testimony, please contact Valerie C. 
Melvin at (202) 512-6304 or by e-mail at melvinv@gao.gov. Key 
contributors to this testimony were Barbara Oliver, Assistant Director, 
Nancy Glover, David Hong, Scott Pettis, and J. Michael Resser. 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Timeline of Key VA Activities: 

This figure is a timeline showing key VA activities. 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: GAO analysis of VA data. 

[End of figure] 

[End of section] 

Footnotes:  

[1] Department of Veterans Affairs, Information and Technology 
Strategic Plan FY 2006 - 2011 (Washington, D.C.: Dec. 2007). 

[2] GAO, Veterans Affairs: Continued focus on Critical Success Factors 
Is Essential to Achieving Information Technology Realignment, GAO-07- 
844 (Washington, D.C.: June 15, 2007); GAO, Veterans Affairs: Progress 
Made in Centralizing Information Technology Management, but Challenges 
Persist, GAO-07-1246T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 19, 2007); GAO, Veterans 
Affairs: The Role of the Chief Information Officer in Effectively 
Managing Information Technology, GAO-06-201T (Washington, D.C.: Oct. 
20, 2005); GAO, Veterans Affairs: The Critical Role of the Chief 
Information Officer in Effective Information Technology Management, GAO-
05-1017T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 14, 2005); GAO, VA Information 
Technology: Management Making Important Progress in Addressing Key 
Challenges, GAO-02-1054T (Washington, D.C.: Sept. 26, 2002); GAO, VA 
Information Technology: Important Initiatives Begun, Yet Serious 
Vulnerabilities Persist, GAO-01-550T (Washington, D.C.: April 4, 2001); 
GAO, VA Information Technology: Improvements Needed to Implement 
Legislative Reforms, GAO/AIMD-98-154 (Washington, D.C; July 7, 1998). 

[3] The OneVA vision is to create versatile new ways for veterans to 
obtain services and information by streamlining interactions with 
customers and integrating IT resources to enable VA employees to help 
customers more quickly and effectively. 

[4] GAO-07-844. 

[5] Gartner Consulting, OneVA IT Organizational Alignment Assessment 
Project "As-Is" Baseline (McLean, Virginia; Feb. 18, 2005). 

[6] Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Information and Technology 
VA IT Governance Plan, (March 12, 2007). 

[7] AO-07-844. 

[8] GAO-07-844. 

[9] GAO-07-1264T. 

[10] 0 U.S.C. ßß 11311-11313. 

[11] This board, which became operational in May 2007, is chaired by 
the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary and membership consists of 
high ranking officials from the Veterans Health Administration, the 
Veterans Benefits Administration, the National Cemetery Administration, 
staff offices, and the deputy assistant secretaries in the Office of 
Information and Technology. 

[12] his board, which became operational in June 2007, is chaired by 
the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Enterprise, Strategy, Policy, 
Plans and Programs and its membership includes high-ranking officials 
from the Veterans Benefits Administration, the Veterans Health 
Administration, the National Cemetery Administration, and high-ranking 
officials from the offices of finance, budget, and human resources 
management. 

[13] This board, which became operational in June 2007, is chaired by 
the Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and its members 
include undersecretaries for Health, Benefits, and Memorial Affairs, 
the Assistant Secretary for Management, and the Executive in Charge of 
Human Resources and Administration. 

[14] VA IT Governance Plan. 

[15] The OMB Exhibit 300, also called the Capital Asset Plan and 
Business Case, is a document that agencies must submit to OMB to 
justify resource request for major IT investments. The Exhibit 300 
contains information such as an investment's historical and future 
costs, performance measures and goals, cost-benefits analysis, 
acquisition strategy, risk assessment, and security issues. 

[16] The matrix uses fiscal year 2007 as the baseline and lists targets 
for fiscal years 2008 and 2011. 

[17] GAO, Results-Oriented Cultures: Implementation Steps to Assist 
Mergers and Organizational Transformations, GAO-03-669 (Washington, 
D.C.: July 2003). 

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