VA’s Increased FY 2016 Funding Comes with More Oversight and Reporting Requirements
Published: January 06, 2016
The FY 2016 Omnibus funding bill, passed in December, gives the Department of Veterans Affairs an additional $6 billion over FY 2015 enacted levels, but not without strings attached.
VA’s discretionary funding totals $71.4B for FY 2016, a nearly 10% increase over FY 2015 enacted levels and includes $4.1B for information technology systems. However, Congress was quick to point out VA’s shortcomings throughout the funding bill, especially in relationship to IT systems. For example the bill states, “The Department has had an abysmal record over the past decade attempting to install a modem financial management system.” It goes on to say, “The Department's lack of timely responses to congressionally directed reporting requirements is extremely frustrating…,” and “VA continues to struggle with modernizing its antiquated scheduling system.”
The bill stresses the authority and oversight of the House and Senate appropriations committees. It contains over 34 requests for VA to develop a report or report information to the committees during the fiscal year. In some cases, funding will be withheld until reporting requirements are met.
For IT projects classified as development, modernization, and enhancement (DME), the agreement prohibits the obligation of funding until VA submits a certification of the amounts to be obligated. Additionally, for enhancements of VA’s VistA EHR, the department cannot expend more than 25% of FY 2016 DME funds without meeting reporting and accountability requirements.
The omnibus bill provides $1.2 billion, $100 million above the requested level, to be expended over five years for construction projects. However, VA is instructed to hire a non-VA federal design and/or construction agent for each major construction project to avoid the mismanagement of funds as experienced on the Denver VA Medical Center project. The $649 million slated for VHA major construction projects, or any portion, will not be released until VA certifies that they have retained such an agent for each project.
Expect continued scrutiny of VA processes, systems, people and spending throughout FY 2016. VA has more money to further implement the Veterans Choice Act, construction projects, medical services, and IT improvements, but it must comply with reporting requirements to insure uninterrupted flow of funds.