The tragedy of Roger Baker


Roger Baker's decision to leave the Veterans Affairs Department is, on reflection, a tragedy.

Yes, it comes shortly after his lamentable participation in the joint VA-Defense Department total whitewash of a presentation announcing cancelation of the iEHR program.

Defense and VA officials are quick to note that they haven't abandoned the notion of interoperability nor of data portability--but the cheery spin they placed on the announcement of the cancelation ("we're accelerating the program! Yay!") was a misdirection. Where once there was going to be a single EHR for both departments, now there will continue to be separate ones. Baker knew better but went along with the spin.

His resignation also comes ahead of what could be a difficult time for the Veterans Benefits Administration in rolling out the $537 million Veterans Benefits Management System--which even the VBA acknowledges can't yet do all the things that adjudicators need to do in order to process a claim. Getting out ahead of that might be a wise decision.

But it's a tragedy nonetheless--not because Baker, to the extent I'm able to judge, has dedication and integrity--but because during his tenure, he had everything every CIO has said since implementation of the Clinger-Cohen Act would make their jobs doable. And yet here we are.

Somewhat uniquely among major department CIOs, the VA CIO has full spending authority over the information technology budget. Baker personally also had the ear of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. His experience in government made him well-positioned to understand federal nonlinear internal processes and to grasp the hidden levers of power in order to get things done.

But even then, at the end of his term, we're faced with the ineluctable conclusion that even an empowered CIO can be actually powerless to prevent bad IT decisions and bad implementations. It's not a heartening thought. - Dave