VA CIO says department must hold tech contractors ‘to a standard’

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Large technology contractors working with the Department of Veterans Affairs must be held accountable for the standard of work they carry out, the department’s CIO said Wednesday.

Responding to questions from lawmakers, Kurt DelBene said he is working to ensure greater accountability for how IT resources are being allocated across the department and to understand what, if any, efficiencies may be made.

“I think we do need to hold [the contractors] to a standard. This is standard in terms of delivery, and in terms of efficient and efficacy in that delivery as well,” he said.  “I’ve been talking with the team: Tell me what resources we’re paying for with a particular contract, and is there a way to drive greater efficiency there?”

DelBene spoke at a digital hearing of the Subcommittee on IT modernization of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs — his first appearance on Capitol Hill since being confirmed in the CIO role in December.

His comments come as the former Microsoft executive pushes ahead with the attempted turnaround of IT modernization at the VA, which has encountered widespread setbacks including across its health records modernization program.

DelBene said that since joining the department last year, a key priority has been to ensure VA staff are more deeply embedded in projects involving contractors to help improve the quality of work. He added that there were places where the department has an opportunity to drive up diversity and the quality of work by using smaller contractors.

The hearing follows an in-depth report published by the Government Accountability Office at the start of February, which found that the VA failed to ensure data transferred during the rollout of its new electronic health record (EHR) modernization program met clinicians’ needs.

The watchdog found that the department had failed to sufficiently monitor the accessibility, accuracy and appropriateness of clinical information as it was transferred in segments from one system to a new Cerner-operated platform.

DelBene was nominated for the role of VA CIO in November by President Biden, after retiring from the private sector in September, where most recently he was executive vice president of corporate strategy, core services and operations at Microsoft.

Earlier in his career, DelBene worked in the Obama administration for a brief time, during which he led improvement work on Healthcare.gov as a senior adviser to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. While working on Healthcare.gov, he helped to troubleshoot issues encountered during the first open enrollment period.

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CIO, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Kurt DelBene, Microsoft
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