VA Information Technology:

Improvements Needed to Implement Legislative Reforms

AIMD-98-154: Published: Jul 7, 1998. Publicly Released: Jul 14, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has implemented specific provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other legislative reforms, including: (1) reengineering business processes before acquiring information technology; (2) completing an integrated information technology architecture; (3) institutionalizing a disciplined information technology investment decisionmaking process; and (4) appointing an agency Chief Information Officer (CIO).

GAO noted that: (1) VA has not fully implemented critical provisions of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other legislative reforms; (2) although VA has taken some initial steps, it has not adequately implemented these legislative reforms; (3) specifically, the Clinger-Cohen Act requires agencies to analyze their mission-related and administrative processes, and on the basis of this analysis, revise and improve these processes before making significant investments in supporting information technology; (4) although GAO's business process reengineering guide states that agencies should have an overall business process improvement strategy to accomplish reengineering, VA has not developed such a strategy; (5) VA also has not yet defined the departmentwide integrated information technology architecture needed to efficiently utilize information systems across the department; (6) in addition, VA has not institutionalized a disciplined process for selecting, controlling, and evaluating information technology as investments as required by the Clinger-Cohen Act; (7) specifically, VA decisionmakers did not have current and complete information such as cost, benefit, schedule, risk, and performance data at the project level, which is essential to making sound investment decisions; (8) in addition, VA's process for controlling and evaluating its investment portfolio is incomplete and, as a result, decisionmakers do not have the information needed to: (a) detect or avoid problems early; and (b) improve VA's investment process; (9) as a consequence, the department does not know whether it is making the right investments, how to control these investments effectively, or whether these investments have provided mission-related benefits in excess of their costs; (10) although the Clinger-Cohen Act requires agencies' CIOs to have information management as their primary duty, the responsibilities of VA's CIO are not limited primarily to information management; (11) instead, the CIO also functions as the department's Assistant Secretary for Management and Chief Financial Officer; and (12) as a result, information technology issues are not addressed promptly.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA agreed with the recommendation, and is now conducting post-implementation reviews and has developed a schedule of post-implementation reviews. In addition, VA has identified lessons learned, and is now including these in its post-implementation reviews.

    Recommendation: To fulfill the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other information technology legislative reforms, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VA's CIO to initiate postimplementation reviews for information technology projects within 12 months of implementation, to compare completed project cost, schedule, performance, and mission improvement outcomes with original estimates, and provide the results of these reviews to decisionmakers so that improvements can be made to VA's information technology investment process.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA agreed and stated that it is conducting in-process reviews, and has developed a schedule for in-process reviews. In addition, VA has developed a process for determining when an in-process review is needed, and is now providing the results of formal in-process reviews to decisionmakers.

    Recommendation: To fulfill the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other information technology legislative reforms, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VA's CIO to conduct formal in-process reviews at key milestones in a project's life cycle, including comparing actual estimated project costs, benefits, schedule, and risks, and provide these results, as well as the results of periodic project status reviews performed by VA components, to decisionmakers who will determine whether to continue, accelerate, or terminate information technology projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA agreed with the recommendation, and stated that it had developed and implemented a capital investment process for information technology that takes into account a variety of factors, including estimated project costs, expected benefits (mission-related and otherwise), projected scheduling issues, and risks. GAO's review of the fiscal year 2001 process, showed that the new process did provide more detailed information on proposed IT investments.

    Recommendation: To fulfill the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other information technology legislative reforms, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VA's CIO to fully implement a disciplined process for selecting information technology investments in which all decisions are based upon complete and current project information including estimated project costs, expected mission-related benefits, projected schedule, and risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In April 2001, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs established VA's Enterprise Architecture Innovation Team and directed the acting chief information officer to lead this team to develop a department-wide enterprise architecture program. In August 2001, the team finalized VA's Enterprise Architecture Strategy, Governance, and Implementation document, which is VA's guide to define, implement, and maintain its enterprise architecture. The document contained VA's initial milestones for development of its enterprise architecture. VA subsequently drafted version 1.0 of its enterprise architecture (dated July 2002), which contains elements of its baseline and target architectures, information flows, data descriptions, technical reference manual, and standards profile.

    Recommendation: To fulfill the requirements of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other information technology legislative reforms, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VA's CIO to develop a detailed implementation plan with milestones for completing an integrated, departmentwide information technology architecture.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: VA concurred with this recommendation and has incorporated business process reengineering into its One-VA enterprise architecture development effort. According to VA's Enterprise Architecture Strategy, Governance, and Implementation document of August 2001, a key principle of the department's enterprise architecture is to reduce the redundancy of information technology systems and data, and seek commonality across program and business lines. As part of VA's ongoing enterprise architecture development process, VA's chief information officer is expected to review and approve all information technology system proposals for compliance with the enterprise architecture, and for identification of business process reengineering opportunities. In addition, under VA's enterprise architecture governance process, the VA administrations cannot independently develop information technology systems.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning to develop a departmentwide strategy that details how VA will reengineer its business processes, including identifying and prioritizing process improvement projects, and delineating their interrelationships.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although VA has not yet officially responded to the report, in commenting on a draft of the report, the department concurred with the recommendation. VA subsequently established the position of Assistant Secretary to serve as CIO, reporting directly to the Secretary on all information resources issues. This new Assistant Secretary will be responsible for ensuring that all of VA's information technology initiatives support the overall "One-VA" vision.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Veterans Affairs should appoint a CIO with full-time responsibilities for information resources management.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

 

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