VA Finally Fills 3 Key Management Slots

James Gfrerer, seen here at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on September 5, 2018, has been confirmed as assistant secretary for the Office of Information and Technology. (Photo: Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee)
James Gfrerer, seen here at a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on September 5, 2018, has been confirmed as assistant secretary for the Office of Information and Technology. (Photo: Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee)

After more than two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs finally has a Senate-confirmed chief information officer. It also has filled two additional management slots crucial to the multibillion-dollar switch to an electronic health records system, as well as implementation of portions of the VA Mission Act that apply to private health care.

In one of the final acts of the last Congress, the Senate confirmed James Gfrerer, a career Marine officer and former cybersecurity executive with Ernst & Young, as assistant secretary for the Office of Information and Technology. The office had been run by acting executives since the end of President Barack Obama's administration.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie administered the oath of office Monday to Gfrerer for the post, which will oversee the $10 billion, 10-year contract with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City that Wilkie authorized last year for the electronic health record system, he said in a Twitter post.

Gfrerer will be in charge of the switchover to Cerner's electronic records platform from the VA's existing Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA).

He also is expected to have input on the IT challenges the VA will face this year on coordinating the records of community care providers under the VA Mission Act to expand private-care options.

At his Senate confirmation hearing last September, Gfrerer told lawmakers he was optimistic that the 10-year time frame for the Cerner contract could be accelerated.

The VA also faces IT challenges in straightening out the computer glitches that have plagued the rollout of changes to the GI Bill, which led to delays and errors in the payments of housing allowances to veteran students.

Also sworn in was Tamara Bonzanto, a former Navy corpsman, registered nurse and health care investigator for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, as assistant secretary for the VA's new Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection.

On New Year's Eve, the VA also announced the appointment of Cheryl J. Rawls, an Army veteran, to serve as executive director of the Office of Transition and Economic Development.

In her post, Rawls will serve as the primary adviser to VA leadership on the "delivery and application of benefits and services that impact transition and employment-related initiatives for service members, veterans, survivors and dependents," the agency said in a release.

The VA has thus far not been affected by the partial government shutdown. In a message last month shortly before the shutdown went into effect, Wilkie said, "VA is fully funded for fiscal year 2019 and, in the event of a partial government shutdown, all VA operations will continue unimpeded."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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