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The Department of Veterans Affairs' inspector general has criticized managers at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg, Fla., for the way they're managing the deployment of a $472 million, core financial and logistics system, known as CoreFLS.
In a preliminary report dated March 19, the inspector general also suggested that faulty management of Bay Pines' supply-processing and -distribution IT systems contributed to the cancellation of 81 surgeries in recent months and delays in other medical treatments that might have resulted in unexpected deaths. However, the inspector general didn't yet make a direct link between problems associated with CoreFLS and the supply-processing and -distribution systems and the allegations of unexplained deaths.
Still, the preliminary findings suggest that major problems exist and could have dire consequences if not fixed. For instance, the report says, inspector general auditors visited Bay Pines twice late last year and discovered that an inventory module of CoreFLS wasn't fully operational because of inaccurate inventory data and corrupt vendor files. Employees couldn't electronically transfer all medical-supplies data between the warehouse and the system that supports its supply-processing and -distribution operations. That's because staff failed to validate the compatibility of the units of measure between the generic inventory system and CoreFLS during the conversion phase of the project. The generic inventory system used the word "case," whereas CoreFLS used the term "box" as comparable units of measure. "The incompatible units of measure between the two systems rendered many line-item inventories inaccurate," the report says.
Data-conversion woes weren't the only problem the inspector general said management must address. VA employees didn't receive sufficient training to use CoreFLS. Management also failed to implement prior recommendations to improve the functionality of the CoreFLS system. The inspector general also found that CoreFLS needs to interface with other VA medical-center systems, such as Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture and Personnel Accounting Integrated Data.
Such problems can prove costly. "VA management needs to aggressively oversee and act on this initiative because they are paying over $4 million per month to BearingPoint, an integration contractor, to deploy CoreFLS, and as implementation and testing at other VA locations is delayed, costs will significantly increase." wrote assistant inspectors general Michael Staley and John Daigh Jr.
CoreFLS is an integrated commercial off-the shelf software (COTS) financial and logistics system that, when fully implemented in March 2006, is intended to be used by every financial and logistics office within the VA. The system consists of Oracle Financials for accounting, budget, contacting, and purchasing; MRO Software's Maximo for asset management; and Dynamic Medical Information Systems for inventory. Planning for a new system began in 1998.
According to the inspector general, BearingPoint's test results demonstrated that implementing the COTS system with no modifications wouldn't meet the VA's financial and logistics requirements. As a result of the test, the VA identified gaps in the software that needed to be modified. The modifications tailored the basic COTS system to meet VA's expected requirements.
When asked to comment, BearingPoint issued a statement Friday saying it's working with the VA to respond to the inspector general's preliminary report. In testimony before a Senate panel Monday, BearingPoint executive VP Richard Roberts conceded that deploying CoreFLS is complex. "The cultural change that accompanies this cannot be understated," Roberts told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "As with any program of this size, the training and implementation of CoreFLS will be continuously improved over time using lessons learned. Enterprise modernization programs of this size and complexity are hard; VA needs to stay the course."
A VA spokesman confirmed that the inspector general's investigation was prompted, in part, by a request from VA secretary Anthony Principi and lawmakers after problems at the Florida facility surfaced. The spokesman directed further questions to the inspector general's office.
According to the inspector general's office, Bay Pines managers canceled surgeries because critical surgical supplies and instruments weren't consistently available or properly sterilized by the supply-processing and -distribution operations. The reported problem involving the unavailability of medical-surgical supplies was only one of a number of longstanding, uncorrected problems--dating back to January 2001--related to the supply-processing and -distribution operations. Other identified deficiencies included improper sterilization procedures, inadequate inventory practices, and poorly trained staff.
The inspector general's review also revealed that Bay Pines employees failed to take or complete the required E-training necessary to operate and maintain CoreFLS. It also questioned whether VA project managers gave BearingPoint developers systems administrator access to CoreFLS that normally is limited to government employees.
In the preliminary report, the inspector general recommended that:
Data-conversion issues be resolved so employees can rely on the accuracy of the system.
Employees be more involved in testing procedures to ensure that the system is meeting their needs, and be trained to use the system.
Managers implement all prior recommendations made by an independent private verification firm and VA review groups to improve system performance, configuration management, quality assurance, cost management, and system functionality.
Interface issues be resolved to permit other VA medical-center systems to communicate with CoreFLS.
Information security--such as segregated duties, access controls, contingency planning, accountability, and application change controls--be improved to protect assets and information stored in the system.
CoreFLS contracting processes be strengthened.