VA dismisses SAM contractors, suspends project

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The Veterans Affairs Department is suspending immediately development of a strategic asset management information technology effort and dismissing the contractors, said VA Chief Information Officer Roger Baker.

In a Feb. 28 interview with FierceGovernmentIT, Baker said that the SAM program, the only portion of the Financial and Logistics Integrated Enterprise project to have escaped cancellation in July 2010, will undergo a five-month pause while the VA reexamines its development approach.

Project contractors General Dynamics and Mitre are being terminated for convenience, Baker said. Some governmental staff will be reassigned, he added.

"The government and the contractors together failed on this one," Baker said. GD received a cost plus contract worth up to $20.3 million in April 2009 for customization and integration of IBM Maximo asset management software while Mitre was hired for program management. So far, the VA has spent $16 million on the GD contract and $10 million for Mitre, Baker said.

The department has also spent $22.9 million on project management support from Booz Allen Hamilton. "No decision has been made to terminate BAH at this time," VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda said in a follow-up statement.

The immediate cause for the suspension is a bad February user acceptance test made ahead of the software's planned March 29 initial deployment to the VA medical center in Milwaukee, Wis., Baker said.

The test marked the "third strike" against under project, which under the VA's new Program Management Accountability System method requires a decision on whether to proceed. The first strike occurred in September 2009 after which the VA created a new project plan, Baker said.

The project "made a number of dates between that time frame and December 2010," when the second strike occurred in the form of a missed user acceptance date, he added.

"We believe that there is a business case for a new asset management system, we just came to the conclusion that the approach we were on was not going to be successful," Baker said.

Over the next five months, the VA will determine next steps, including whether or not to continue with Maximo and the possibility of incorporating agile development, Baker said.

"We're using agile on a few of our projects right now, and we've had a good success with it...I'm sure we'll look at it for this, but I don't view it as necessarily a panacea that if I put every project on agile, they'll all start delivering like clockwork," he added.

A September 2010 VA inspector general report (.pdf) found that program managers "did not effectively control project cost, schedule, performance and ensure timely deliverables."

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