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FCW : May 30, 2013
16 May 30, 2013 FCW.COM "IT says yes only after all variations of no are disproved," said a VA source who works in OIT. "Our IT managers are increasingly self-serving and barely grasp the mission of the VA anymore. We call it trench warfare mentality or circling the wagons. Say no until all options precluding yes have been exhausted." Another source who spoke to FCW on background admitted that OIT s shortcomings were significant but defended its progress under CIO Roger Baker, who stepped down early this year and is now chief strategy of cer at Agilex. That source, who worked at VA dur- ing Baker s four-year tenure, said VA "got its priorities straight, making sure strategy matched budget allocations" through the use of the Project Manage- ment Accountability System (PMAS), an IT dashboard that the Office of Management and Budget has used as a template for governmentwide use. "The organization Roger inherited was broken, dysfunctional, screwed up, you name it," the source said. "We made a lot of progress in the de cient areas [mentioned by Deloitte], and Roger did a lot of it, but that doesn t mean there isn t still more to do." Yet several former VA of cials were not impressed with the department s progress even as leaders like Baker were lauded for their work in the past four years. "During the time of Steph [Warren] and Roger [Baker], the inventory of positive accomplishments would start with PMAS," one such of cial said. "By my count, that s where it would end." The tech issues In early March, VA s IT operations once again got caught in the watchdog cross- hairs. VA admitted to security viola- tions that potentially exposed infor- mation to hackers and misuse. The department was using an unencrypted telecommunications carrier network to transfer sensitive data, including veter- ans EHRs and internal IP addresses, among certain VA medical centers and outpatient clinics. OIT leaders said they had accepted the security risk of the potential loss or misuse of the sensitive informa- tion. Baker and Dr. Robert Petzel, VA s undersecretary for health, had signed security waivers to "delay implement- ing encryption controls in the near term, while acknowledging the risks associated with the lack of technical con guration controls," the IG report states. VA s OIT has been criticized in the past for its lack of standardized pro- cesses, but IT security holes are the bigger threat, said one source with extensive knowledge of OIT s secu- rity protocols. "Bandwidth is an active threat. Hacking the medical record [system] or establishing bastion hosts within the perimeter is a potential threat for which we have other safeguards," the source said. "If the links get saturated, however, we are toast. If Baker signed a waiver, money was likely the driver." The insider said Baker should not shoulder all the blame because he had "inherited a mishmash of varying vin- tages bought with no strategic plan when money was distributed" to the Veterans Integrated Service Networks. "We rarely put encryption devices on those [systems] unless it was direct to a medical provider, and even then...I do not recall seeing anything more than a rewall on most," the source said. "Some encryption on point-to-point links is built into the router, so I think in cases where the data was de nitively sensitive, we would turn that on. As to end-to-end [hardware] encryption on a [wide-area network] with so many end- points? The scope is just mind-boggling for me. I frankly do not think we will Former CIO Roger Baker (left) and former Chief Technology Officer Peter Levin (center) announced their departures within days of one another in February. Several other senior agency leaders in the Office of Information and Technology and elsewhere have left in recent weeks as well. OIT's Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Stephen Warren (right) is now serving as acting CIO. What's wrong at VA?
May 15, 2013
June 15, 2013