On Wednesday, the White House announced its nomination of Kurt DelBene as chief information officer and assistant secretary for information and technology at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
WHY IT MATTERS
DelBene, who served more than 25 years at Microsoft in two different stints, could take an active role in VA’s ongoing $16 billion electronic health record modernization if he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
He’d bring deep technology and management experience to the job. He retired from Microsoft just two months ago, after serving as executive VP of corporate strategy, core services engineering and operations. He was in charge of the planning and execution of the tech giant’s cross-engineering and cross-business initiatives. He also served many years as president of the Microsoft Office division.
Between those two jobs, DelBene spent a crucial several-month stint as part of the Obama-Biden administration, signing on as a senior HHS advisor and joining a team tasked with fixing the problem-riddled rollout of Healthcare.gov, the Affordable Care Act’s enrollment website.
Before Microsoft, DelBene worked at McKinsey & Company on business strategy for tech companies. He also gained experience in software and systems engineering at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he developed imaging software and network switching systems.
THE LARGER TREND
In 2014, as work on Healthcare.gov was underway, DelBene explained his approach to mapping out technology strategy using whiteboards, handwritten notes and pragmatic and targeted to-do lists.
“I’m a list guy. I like to make lists of everything. It’s a great thought process for me if I can write the list over and over again,” he said. “The process … is therapeutic.”
If he’s confirmed by the Senate, DelBene would have a long list of work to tackle at VA, where its years-long Cerner EHR modernization is behind schedule, over budget – and attracting skeptical questions about safety and security from members of Congress.
After a series of pauses and delays, some related to the pandemic and some not, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said this summer that the agency would be “reimagining” its approach to the project after a “strategic review illuminated a broad range of issues and affirmed many stakeholder concerns.”
Less than a month ago, VA announced that it would enlist the help of a third party, the Institute for Defense Analyses, to assess the true end-to-end cost of the (currently) $16 billion endeavor.
Meanwhile, just this week, a former IT leader at the agency – Ed Meagher, who served as deputy CIO at VA in the early 2000s – offered his own perspective on how to proceed.
His suggestion? A modernization and replatforming of the agency’s legacy VistA system instead.
“No amount of good intentions, hard work, heroic management, relentless oversight or endless funding will be able to overcome the fatal flaws of this massive, misbegotten program,” said Meagher.
ON THE RECORD
“From December 2013 to July 2014, in his work on Healthcare.gov as senior advisor to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, DelBene helped assess and implement the path through the first Open Enrollment period, including troubleshooting issues encountered along the way, and setting the project up for long-term success,” said White House officials in announcing DelBene’s nomination as VA CIO.