Veterans Benefits:

Acquisition of Information Resources for Modernization Is Premature

IMTEC-93-6: Published: Nov 4, 1992. Publicly Released: Dec 9, 1992.

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Joel C. Willemssen
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Veterans Benefits Administration's (VBA) information systems modernization effort, focusing on whether VBA: (1) will reflect its commitment to migrate to an open systems environment in its modernized system; and (2) procurements in support of the modernization effort duplicated other departmental procurements.

GAO found that VBA: (1) has not sufficiently analyzed its business processes to determine how information technology can best be used to modernize its operations and improve service to veterans; (2) lacked detailed information on the specific activities used to deliver benefits to veterans; (3) has not established specific service goals or performance indicators to measure modernization efforts; (4) planned to buy information technology components without first defining its new information architecture; (5) did not have an organization-wide process to involve all program and information resources management (IRM) office senior managers in its modernization effort; (6) lacked effective communication and cooperation between its program and IRM offices; and (7) chief information resources officer (CIRO) lacked the authority to resolve problems and had no active role in ensuring that VBA-proposed acquisitions would deliver improved service.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In a letter dated March 24, 1993, VA stated that it did not concur with GAO's recommendation and therefore would not cancel its procurement for Stage I because the existing Benefits Delivery Network employed obsolete computing techniques and outdated software functions. Also, at that time, VBA stated that serious equipment failures were occurring which would adversely affect VBA's ability to provide adequate and timely service to veterans. As a result, the Department closed this recommendation (case IG-1820)and planned no followup. After several years of monitoring this, GAO is closing the recommendation and will keep updated on this area on a current congressionally requested assignment.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the modernization effort successfully delivers improved service to the nation's veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) should postpone contract award for any procurements under the modernization effort until VBA: (1) analyzes its current business processes and develops a clear understanding of the deficiencies and problems the effort is intended to resolve; (2) identifies specific goals for improved service and develops a formal process to ensure that the modernization system meets those goals; (3) completely defines its new information architecture; and (4) ensures effective participation and communication between senior program and IRM managers

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1993, VA agreed to redirect one of its largest IRM projects at BVA. As part of the redirection, VA stated that CIRO oversight would be strengthened for all major projects. VA stated specifically that the CIRO would develop and use criteria to prioritize, approve, and evaluate major IRM projects. The date for completing this effort is unknown since implementation of the agreement is in the planning stages. In July 1994, GAO updated VA's progress to implement its June 1993 agreement with OMB. GAO found that the CIRO: (1) has not established new criteria to prioritize, approve, and evaluate major IRM projects; and (2) is not leading the analysis of business processes and establishing service delivery goals. Although the current and past Secretaries have repeatedly agreed to take steps to strengthen CIRO oversight over IRM projects, VA's actions have not substantially changed or improved the CIRO role. Therefore, GAO believes this recommendation should be closed.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the modernization effort successfully delivers improved service to the nation's veterans, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should ensure that the chief information resources officer has authority for defining, designing, and implementing the modernization effort. This should include authority and responsibility for leading the analysis of the current benefits delivery processes, establishing service delivery goals, and developing plans for how information technology should be used to provide better service to veterans.

    Agency Affected: Department of Veterans Affairs


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