The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Information and Technology (OIT) has made many strides toward its new vision for digital transformation, but VA CIO Kurt DelBene said today that the agency still has “work to do” to set a proper modernization pace, and could benefit from more modernization funding.

The VA’s new Vision 2022 video series outlines OIT’s approach to setting VA up as a modern IT shop in the Federal government with a focus on four main priorities: vision-driven execution, operational excellence, delightful end-user experience, and people excellence.

On a call with reporters today, DelBene said the agency has set a “good pace” in its various digital transformation efforts – such as having modern agile development practices, moving infrastructure to the cloud, and centralization of single sign-on technologies.

However, DelBene also said the agency has more room to improve in its modernization efforts.

“I think the right thing to do is to get into a pace where we’re constantly upgrading systems a piece at a time versus some of these big bang modernizations that people hang their hats on, because those are the ones that have the higher propensity to fail,” DelBene said.

“You’re just counting all your eggs in one basket versus saying, we’re going to take the most crufty part of that system, we’re going to upgrade it this year, and then we’re going to do that year after year after year. So, we want to get into that pattern,” he continued. “And that’s the piece I think we still have some work to do.”

In addition to getting into a pattern of constant modernization of systems, DelBene also discussed the need for more funding from the Biden administration and Congress – especially when it comes to digital transformation.

Earlier this year, the VA received a $10.5 million funding boost from the Technology Modernization Fund (TMF) for the agency to implement the General Services Administration’s single sign-on technology across multiple VA websites.

However, funding levels are still not where the VA would like them. For its fiscal year 2022 budget request, the VA’s IT systems came with a hefty $4.8 billion price tag.

As for one of the biggest modernization programs for the VA – the Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program – the agency initially estimated it would cost $10 billion over 10 years. The new cost estimate is closer to $56 billion, with $39 billion for implementation of the EHR system over 13 years, and then $17 billion to maintain the system over 15 years.

“We need to up our game in terms of the pace of modernization of some of our older systems,” DelBene told reporters. “We still do have a number of systems that are running on mainframes. We have a number of systems that are architected on 20-year-old design patterns for applications. And so we’re constantly talking to the administration and to Congress about needing to increase our funding, particularly around those transformations.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.