Veterans Benefits Computer Systems:

Uninterrupted Delivery of Benefits Depends on Timely Correction of Year-2000 Problems

T-AIMD-97-114: Published: Jun 26, 1997. Publicly Released: Jun 26, 1997.

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GAO discussed actions being taken by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) to address the computing challenges faced by virtually all major organizations, public and private, with the upcoming change of century.

GAO noted that: (1) as with all other federal agencies, VBA could face widespread computer systems failures as the year 2000 nears due to the potential for incorrect information processing; (2) because eligibility for many of VBA's benefits and services is date-dependent, services could be seriously disrupted to millions of people; (3) unless systems changes are made, veterans could receive inaccurate and/or delayed compensation and pension benefits, receive debt collection letters when they do not actually owe money, cease to receive vocational rehabilitation services, receive inaccurate insurance benefits, or have foreclosure proceedings initiated unnecessarily due to erroneous date calculations; (4) management decisions relating to impact, prioritization, and resources, among others, must first be made; (5) GAO has developed a guide that constitutes a framework that agencies can use to assess their readiness to achieve year-2000 compliance; (6) the guide describes in detail the five phases involved in this challenge, including awareness, assessment, renovation, validation, and implementation; (7) VBA's information resources management support plan, issued this past January, states unambiguously that achieving year-2000 compliance is the agency's number one priority; (8) the structure of VBA's year-2000 program management office needs strengthening, and technical and managerial issues must be addressed; (9) critical technical deficiency is VBA's lack of an overall, integrated systems architecture, or blueprint, to guide and constrain the development of replacement systems and the evaluation of related information systems; (10) a second obstacle to VBA's success concerns determining whether VBA information systems and their components are compliant now; (11) a third obstacle is that VBA has not developed contingency plans for all of its critical systems; (12) VBA does not yet have sufficient information about the costs and risks associated with its year-2000 activities; (13) reliable assessments of costs and risks are important prerequisites for effective prioritization of information technology projects; (14) VA's readiness assessment estimated VBA's year-2000 costs at about $20 million for fiscal years 1996 through 1999; and (15) in light of VBA's recent decision to make year-2000 changes to its existing systems its top priority, rather than relying on replacement systems, GAO believes that VBA must reevaluate its cost/benefit and risk assessments under this new strategy.

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