Legislation introduced this week by the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee aims to increase the transparency of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Electronic Health Records Modernization (EHRM) program through regular reporting requirements.

Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the VA Electronic Health Record Transparency Act to hold the VA accountable for its EHRM program, which has come under fire in recent months from Congress over a troubled roll-out and inaccurate cost estimates.

“The VA, and consequently our nation, has invested a great deal of time and money into the VA Electronic Health Record Modernization program,” Sen. Moran said in a statement. “The potential benefits of this program are tremendous, but we have to get it right. This legislation ensures the VA is providing the proper transparency throughout the EHRM implementation to better allow this committee to conduct oversight during the deployment process to ensure veterans receive the care they deserve and hold the VA accountable for taxpayer dollars.”

The bill calls for periodic reporting from the VA on the costs, performance metrics, and outcomes of its EHRM program.

“As Chairman, I remain laser-focused on making sure the VA electronic health record project delivers real value to department medical staff and the veterans they serve,” Sen. Tester said. “This commonsense bill is part of our ongoing push to increase accountability and transparency of this new program, and I thank Ranking Member Moran for working with me to ensure we hit the mark on behalf of veterans and taxpayers.”

Reps. Mark Takano, D-Calif., Mike Bost, R-Ill., and Frank Mrvan, D-Ind., introduced companion legislation in the House, which passed the full chamber last month.

However, VA expressed concern over the companion House bill during a Subcommittee on Technology Modernization of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing in October.

The bill calls for an initial 90-day reporting window, which caused concern for Paul Brubaker, acting principal deputy assistant secretary at VA’s Office of Information Technology, who said that may not be enough time for VA to complete a cost estimate.

“Our primary concern is depending on when this legislation is passed, the initial 90-day reporting timeline may not allow sufficient time to complete EHRM’s independent cost estimate,” Brubaker said. “We anticipated, once launched, this effort is going to take 12 months to complete.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.