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Jul 31, 2020

Tester, Blackburn Bill to Bring Reforms to VA Information Technology Programs Unanimously Passes Senate

Senators’ bipartisan oversight bill would increase transparency and accountability over critical information technology projects at VA

The Senate unanimously passed U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Marsha Blackburn’s (R-Tenn.) bipartisan bill to improve the management and execution of information technology (IT) programs and projects at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Senators’ Department of Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act would bring more accountability and oversight to the office within VA charged with delivering IT projects critical to providing care and benefits to millions of veterans and their families across the country. The bill requires increased transparency into proposed and current IT spending on critical programs for veterans at VA while also directing VA to institute a number of outstanding Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommendations related to planning, management, and operation of its Office of Information and Technology (OIT).

“When veterans can’t access the benefits and care they earned because the VA’s IT systems don’t work, are over budget, or take years to come online—well, we’ve got to do something about it,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “I’m glad that my Senate colleagues worked quickly to pass our bipartisan bill that will hold VA more accountable to get veterans and VA’s dedicated employees the IT systems they were promised, regardless of whether they’re in Big Sandy or the Big Apple.”

“There is no time to waste when it comes to bringing our veterans’ care into the 21st century,” said Blackburn. “Congress appropriated the proper funds for updated technology, and those funds need to be used responsibly by the VA. I am pleased my Senate colleagues understand the urgent need for the VA improve its management of information technology projects and investments, and am hopeful this bill will be quickly passed by the House.”

For years, VA has been challenged to deliver and upgrade its IT projects and systems on time and on budget, hampering the efficient delivery of medical care and benefits to veterans. Federal IT programs have remained on the GAO’s High-Risk List since 2015. In addition, VA received low compliance scores in many areas of the annual Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA) scorecard.

The Department of Veterans Affairs IT Reform Act addresses these and other shortcomings by:

  • Requiring VA to improve their IT budgeting processes by reporting significant budget variances and providing mitigation plans, creating expenditure plans for IT projects, and improving the accuracy and detail of the annual President’s Budget request for VA IT.
  • Prompting VA to fully implement OMB’s Data Center Consolidation Initiative – improving VA’s FITARA compliance.
  • Instituting a number of outstanding GAO recommendations to improve OIT’s management and operation.

For fiscal year 2021, VA requested $4.9 billion for IT— up from $4.3 billion enacted levels for fiscal year 2020. Tester has long pressed the Department to address key issues regarding VA's IT budget, stating that it does not clearly prioritize VA’s needs for IT funding for benefits, health care and memorial affairs projects. VA’s under-investment in and poor management of various IT programs has led to delays in delivering critical IT projects - including the Caregivers Program expansion, passed as part of the VA MISSION Act, and the Forever G.I. Bill. At a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing this week, Tester raised concerns with VA officials regarding telehealth challenges facing veterans in rural America both during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Text of the Senators’ bill can be found HERE.

Office Contact Information

Senator Tester's Montana staff serves the state from offices in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula. Please bring your concerns with federal agencies, academy nominations, and other situations to one of these Montana offices.

Billings

Judge Jameson Federal Building
2900 4th Ave N, Suite 201
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 252-0550
Fax: (406) 252-7768

Bozeman

Avant Courier Building
1 E Main Street, Suite 202
Bozeman, MT 59715
Phone: (406) 586-4450
Fax: (406) 586-7647

Butte

Silver Bow Center
125 W Granite, Suite 200
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 723-3277
Fax: (406) 782-4717

Great Falls

119 1st Avenue N, Suite 102
Great Falls, MT 59401
Phone: (406) 452-9585
Fax: (406) 452-9586

Helena

208 North Montana Avenue
Suite 104
Helena, MT 59601
Phone: (406) 449-5401
Fax: (406) 449-5462

Kalispell

8 Third Street E
Kalispell, MT 59901
Phone: (406) 257-3360
Fax: (406) 257-3974

Missoula

130 W Front St.
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 728-3003
Fax: (406) 728-2193

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