Pentagon, VA Make Progress in Breaking Medical Records Logjam: Carter

Health care

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday that his efforts to bring in top talent from Silicon Valley were making progress in solving one of the Pentagon's long-standing problems -- the integration of military service records with the Veterans Administration.

Carter said that Chris Lynch, the new head of Defense Digital Services at the Defense Department, had "solved some important problems for us" by bringing coders and other experts with him "for what we call a tour of duty" on a temporary basis at the Pentagon.

One of the problems Lynch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former Microsoft executive, has worked on was improving data sharing in the department "to make sure our veterans get access to their benefits," Carter said. "Chris turned the whole thing around in a couple of weeks."

The records transfer issue has plagued both the VA and Defense Department for years. In 2013, the VA and the department gave up on their joint strategy to build a single, integrated record. The Pentagon later decided to purchase a commercial off-the-shelf system by awarding a $4.3 billion contract to a vendor team led by Leidos last year.

Carter spoke at a Microsoft breakfast in Seattle towards the end of a week-long West Coast trip, his third to Silicon Valley, to talk up partnerships between the department and the tech community.

On Wednesday, Carter announced that he would be setting up a Defense Innovation Advisory Board whose chairman would be Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Alphabet, Google's parent company.

The board will be similar in concept to the Defense Business Board, which advises the department on best business practices, but will instead "inform DoD culture, organization and processes with feedback from top tech innovators," according to a statement.

The board will not involve itself in strategy issues and military operations but will instead focus on "technology alternatives, streamlined project management processes and approaches -- all with the goal of identifying quick solutions to DoD problems," the statement said.

Carter said Schmidt, the former chief executive of Google, would join with him in selecting 12 other members of the new board. The board members were expected to be individuals who had "excelled at identifying and adopting new technology concepts," the statement said.

Essentially, Schmidt was being brought into the Pentagon "to advise me on how to remain innovative" in cybersecurity and stay ahead of potential adversaries, Carter said, and also to "build bridges" to the tech community.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

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