House panel struggles to find tech experts to help on Cerner VA project

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The House Veterans Affairs Committee is having a hard time finding tech experts to help it monitor Cerner's overhaul of the VA's electronic health records system, already $350 million over budget, website Nextgov reports.

The panel's chairman, Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., is searching for health information technology specialists who can better explain technology troubles within the VA. Specifically, Mr. Takano is looking for experts to join the Technology Moderation subpanel, which is overseeing the $10 billion Cerner deal.

To hire these experts, Congress must compete with the private sector.

"You need that combination of someone with the technical expertise, but also the policy knowledge, and [recruit] that person for a price they're will to accept," Mr. Takano told Nextgov. "They're usually very valuable in the  job market, so finding that person who wants to have this be their work is my challenge."

For years, the VA has tried and failed to modernize its system, which features individual EHRs at more than 170 VA medical centers.

With the right team, Mr. Takano said his subcommittee will focus on streamlining management within the VA and give officials more autonomy to make decisions about the EHR. While these are internal challenges, tech experts will be important for oversight purposes.

Being one of the largest IT installations in history, the Cerner project comes with challenges that may force high turnover.

"I want them for more than just one session of Congress," Mr. Takano said during a panel at the South By Southwest conference this week. "I want to keep this staff a lot longer because it's going to take a lot  longer to get all this to work out."

Keeping tech employees around longer for a year will take money, but Mr. Takano's subcommittee is struggling with tightening budgets. Because few lawmakers are equipped with technology backgrounds, Mr. Takano also suggested reviving the Office of Technology Assessment, a nonpartisan advisory group dissolved in 1995.


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