More money, more controls in VA's budget for EHRs

Congress has given the Department of Veterans Affairs a bigger budget for projects, which including updating its electronic health record system, but also is putting more stipulations on how the money is spent, according to Federal News Radio.

The $1.1 trillion 2016 federal budget includes $71.4 billion in discretionary funding--an extra $6 billion--for VA projects including the EHR update, cutting its massive backlog of disability claims and continuing construction projects. Around $233 million was earmarked for the EHR project, according to the report.

However, the appropriations bill includes nearly a dozen conditions the VA must meet.

It must submit spending plans to both the House and Senate appropriations committees on its IT projects. If a project's cost goes up or down by more than $1 million, the agency must request a funding transfer from those committees.

In addition, no more than 25 percent of the funding can be obligated or spent until it informs both committees of everything from changes in the scope or functionality of projects to a timeline of scheduled milestones to changes in the chain of decision-making authority, according to the article.

The House Appropriations Committee put a similar 25 percent threshold on 2015 funding dependent on the VA and Department of Defense showing progress on making their systems interoperable. In November, the DoD said it had met the interoperability requirements, though FierceEMR's Marla Durben Hirsch questioned the agency's definition of interoperability.

In addition to the failure of the VA and the DoD to create a joint EHR system, critics have found plenty of fodder in the VA's IT management failures.

An Inspector General's report last January said the agency lacks the required discipline and accountability to effectively manage its IT projects.

A Government Accountability Office report in June said the VA's projects--along with those of Health and Human Services and Defense departments--all too often do not meet expectations and essentially become money pits.

To learn more:
- read the article