In Part 1, former Veterans Affairs Deputy CIO Ed Meagher detailed why the Electronic Health Record Modernization effort will struggle to succeed.
Never has Will Rogers’ admonition “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging” been more appropriate than right now in terms of America’s veterans and the organization that has been charged with “caring for him who shall have borne the battle.”
The over $16 billion unneeded, unexamined, sole source award to a commercial software vendor best known for its medical billing system to replace the widely popular, trusted, integrated, tested, robust, best-in-breed enterprisewide, cloud-based Veterans Information System Technology Architecture (VISTA) is a self-inflicted wound that if allowed to proceed will fester, degrade and ultimately critically damage the VA’s ability to meet its mission.
Secretary Denis McDonough sits at perhaps the most obvious and yet the most difficult inflection point ever presented an incoming cabinet secretary. On the one hand, over $16 billion has already been committed to this effort. Huge expenditures of manpower, energy and management focus have been devoted to preparing for this conversion. Multiple reorganizations, changes to policy, changes to process and disruptions to other important programs have been launched in order to prepare for the enormous impact that this “rip and replace” of the fully functioning “central nervous” system called VISTA by a product that will at its very best replace much less than half of the functionality of VISTA and do that less productively and at huge additional costs.
And these costs will not just be in financial terms. The impacts on employee productivity, effectiveness and morale have been enormous and will continue to grow exponentially if the secretary decides to proceed with this program.
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On the other hand, if the secretary stops the EHRM program the government will face multiple lawsuits, harsh criticism from all quarters and further degradation of veteran and public trust in the VA.
These are not attractive options.
Recognizing that it is easy to criticize and much tougher to solve problems, I offer the secretary the following specific recommendations for solving this epic conundrum.
Mr. Secretary, the very best advice I can offer you is that in this moment it may appear that staying the course is your best option and that halting this multi-billion-dollar juggernaut would seem like failure and a waste of money and the efforts of many dedicated and committed people. That is not the case. It would be an act of courage and fulfillment of your pledge to always put the veteran first. In the long run, when your servant leadership will be judged, when your pluses and minuses will be summed, it only matters that you do the right thing, for the right reasons, at the right time.
As a service-disabled Vietnam veteran, I wish you good luck and I am rooting for you.
Edward Meagher retired after 24 years in government, 26 years in the private sector and four years in the U.S Air Force. He served for seven years as the deputy assistant secretary and deputy CIO at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Ed divides his time between his own executive consultancy, VETEGIC, LLC and extensive involvement with several veteran focused organizations including his own Service Member Support (SMS) Foundation.