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IT to the rescue: Unraveling bureaucracy at the VA, one project at a time

Tracy Mayor | June 4, 2013
How a small, fast SWAT team is improving performance at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The digital comment cards, available via the VA's intranet, are engineered so administrative office staffers are notified immediately if there is a problem. For example, if a shuttle bus failed to show up at a scheduled stop, the comment-card system would make it easy to dispatch staffers to remedy the situation.

"Most comment cards are drop-down windows where you select your problem from a list of issues," explains Suzanne Campbell, a program specialist with the OA. "David's team went one step further and added a section where employees can actually type in their specific concerns. This has been a big hit," she says. "VA employees have truly appreciated the personal side of this program, and I do too."

Analysis of data from the survey, which goes out to 5,000 employees once a year, can reveal longer-term adjustments that make sense for the organization. For example, Hurndon says his office recently adjusted the makeup of the fleet of vehicles used to transport senior leaders within the national capital region after survey results suggested that shuttle buses would, in some cases, be more rapid, flexible and efficient than individual cars.

We're trying to take down bureaucracy bit by bit, and yes, there has to be a desire among top leadership for that to happen. David Paschane, Department of Veteran's Affairs

In the area of facilities management, Hurndon's organization teamed with the U.S. General Services Administration to install meters to monitor water and energy usage building by building. Paschane's OSS group filled the gaps with an application that presents the data from those meters in a way that lets service directors take specific actions — or urge employees to do so — to reduce costs related to heating and cooling, lighting and energy consumed by IT systems and other equipment.

"David's group is effective at distilling data into usable bits that help us with actionable decision-making," Hurndon says of the project, which has the potential to save $3.5 million over 10 years.

To address the ongoing and rising costs of space management, Paschane and his team are in the process of developing a tenant use optimization scorecard for Hurndon's group that will give executives a snapshot of how their policy and management decisions — including leasing vs. owning, where to house contractors, and the extent of any telecommuting policies — compare against 170 mixed-use federal facilities in the Washington area. "There are no easy sensors for collecting that data," Paschane explains. "Up until now, it's been scanned from paper or self-reported."

As successful as the OSS projects for OI&T, VHA, OA and other departments have been, it's unclear if they will generate enough momentum to achieve the overarching vision of Paschane's PASS discipline — to "change the nature of work" inside a vast organization not known for agility.


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