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Highlights

Since 1996, the Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA) has been working on an initiative to replace its aging system for paying compensation and pension benefits. In 2005, concerned about the slow pace of development, VBA contracted with the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) for an independent evaluation of the project, known as the Veterans Service Network (VETSNET). SEI advised VBA to continue working on the project at a reduced pace while addressing management and organization weaknesses that it determined had hampered the project's progress. GAO was requested to determine to what extent the VETSNET project has followed the course of action recommended by SEI and describe the project's current status. To perform its review, GAO analyzed project documentation, conducted site visits, and interviewed key program officials.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Veterans Affairs To enhance the likelihood that the replacement system will be successfully completed and implemented, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the Chief Information Officer (CIO) to institute measures to track in-house expenditures for the project.
Closed - Implemented
VA has taken measures that address this recommendation. Specifically, in 2007, the department began to track costs associated with business line and information technology employees involved in the VETSNET project, including travel expenses. In addition, in fiscal years 2010 and 2011, the department provided information to the Office of Management and Budget that reflected VA personnel costs associated with the VETSNET project.
Department of Veterans Affairs To enhance the likelihood that the replacement system will be successfully completed and implemented, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the VETSNET project to include activities for capacity planning in the VETSNET Integrated Master Schedule and ensure that resources are available for these activities.
Closed - Implemented
VA has taken actions that demonstrated consistent monitoring of the VETNET replacement system's capacity over time. Since 2007, the department has been engaged in and made resources available for various capacity planning activities for VETSNET. For example, the department developed an operational support document that outlined capacity requirements for VETSNET. Further, since 2008, VETSNET capacity has been monitored on a quarterly basis by a capacity planning workgroup within VA's information technology organization. In addition, the VETSNET executive team meets weekly to discuss critical system issues and remediation plans specifically related to system performance metrics and storage capacity.
Department of Veterans Affairs To enhance the likelihood that the replacement system will be successfully completed and implemented, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct VBA to (1) develop a strategy to address the risk that large numbers of records may need to be returned to the Benefits Delivery Network (BDN); (2) determine whether a greater confidence level for accuracy should be required in the conversion process; and (3) develop a detailed validation plan that includes the scheduled conversions for each regional office and the validation team members needed for that specific conversion.
Closed - Implemented
VA undertook a strategy for implementing VETSNET that mitigated the need for return of records to the Benefits Delivery Network (BDN). This strategy was designed with a 95 percent confidence level and included automated processes and reports to ensure records are converted successfully. Further, the department developed validation plans and designated validation team members for record conversions at its regional offices. In September 2010, VA had converted over 4.3 million of the approximately 5.2 million records from the BDN into its corporate database. As of August 2011, 24,879 (less than one percent) of all compensation and pension records remained on the BDN for conversion. The department intends to complete conversion of these records by October 2012. Also, no records have been returned from VETSNET to BDN.
Department of Veterans Affairs To enhance the likelihood that the replacement system will be successfully completed and implemented, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the CIO to document and incorporate the improved processes for managing risks, requirements, and defects into specific policy and guidance for the replacement initiative and for future use throughout VBA.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2009, VA's CIO established the Program Management Accountability System (PMAS) as a standardized approach to improve the department's processes, including risk and requirements management, for projects such as VETSNET. PMAS includes a "red flag escalation process" for raising risks and issues that jeopardize successful project completion. In addition, PMAS addresses requirements management and specifies that business owners document and validate requirements for initial incremental deliverables before work can begin. Defect management, while not dictated by PMAS, is the responsibility of individual projects; and accordingly, the VETSNET project performs defect management activities.
Department of Veterans Affairs To enhance the likelihood that the replacement system will be successfully completed and implemented, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should direct the replacement project to develop effective results-oriented performance measures that show changes in efficiency, economy, or improvements in mission performance, as well as measures of user satisfaction, and to monitor and report on the progress of the initiative according to these measures.
Closed - Implemented
VA has developed performance metrics for VETSNET that include measures to track the volume of claims processed using the VETSNET suite of applications, the dollar amount of benefits paid, the number of beneficiaries being paid, and the number of claims converted from the legacy system to VETSNET. In addition, the VETSNET team continues to have regular interaction with the user community and tracks "help desk" requests to gauge user satisfaction with the system. VETSNET performance metrics, as well as information on system defects and system outages are reported to VBA's senior level portfolio governance board on a regular basis.

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