Rising Costs

The initial cost of the project was estimated at $887 million, but has since risen to $2.3 billion, with $380 million spent so far. As the price has increased, so has the timeline. The original estimate put full implementation in 2025. That was eventually pushed to 2028 and has been delayed again to 2030.

“None of us working on this program are satisfied with a 10-year deployment,” Jon Rychalski, VA’s chief financial officer, told legislators at the hearing. “Next year will be very telling with respect to accelerating our schedule.”

The timeline for FMBT is dependent on VA’s success with its new EHR system and the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support—the new medical and surgical supplies acquisition system that VA will be sharing with DoD. Both are scheduled to be tested at isolated locations in 2020, and the FMBT will need to be tightly linked to both in order to ensure that ordering and payments are seamless, Rychalski explained.

That seamlessness is something that the current system desperately needs, he added. “Currently, when a contract is awarded in our contract management system, the award amount is not passed on to our FMS,” he said. “Instead, there are communications from contracting personnel to finance personnel to manually input the award amount into the FMS. It’s error-prone and frequently overlooked.”

Under the FMBT, the awards would be input automatically, as would any updates or changes to the award. The end result would be better accuracy and quicker payments to contractors.

Another hurdle to accelerating FMBT’s development is VA’s IT budget, Rychalski added. “The IT budget is stretched thin [due to] costs associated with the MISSION Act, infrastructure upgrades and a seemingly endless list of system enhancements.”

While VA has the IT experts in place to keep its current FMS operational, they are unable to do any improvements to the obsolete system.

“It’s frail. It goes down routinely, and it’s harder and harder to find people to work on the system,” admitted VA Deputy Assistant Secretary Terry Riffle. “If we have to—though we’d prefer not to—we can limp along with FMS. It just becomes more problematic as we go.”