A group of Democratic federal lawmakers, five senators and six members of Congress, are calling out the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for what they call “malign neglect” in the agency’s efforts to achieve electronic health record (EHR) modernization.
The members of Congress, including Senators Richard Blumenthal, Mazie Hirono, Tina Smith, Kirsten Gillibrand and Chris Van Hollen and Representatives Mark Takano, Tim Walz, Julia Brownley, J. Luis Correa, Elizabeth Esty and Ann McLane Kuster sent a letter this week to VA Deputy Secretary Thomas Bowman expressing their concerns about what they described as a lack of “qualified” leadership for the Office of Information Technology (OIT), and specifically the temporary appointment of Camilo Sandoval as VA CIO.
The lawmakers also said they were concerned about “reports of political interference hindering EHR implementation, as well as rampant vacancies for positions that ensure proper oversight of a new EHR system,” according to the letter. The lawmakers request that VA leadership resolve these concerns and “ensure an interoperable VA EHR system with the Department of Defense expeditiously comes to fruition.”
OIT is responsible for carrying out the VA’s multibillion dollar overhaul of its outdated EHR system, its legacy VistA system, and the VA announced last year it was moving forward to implement the same Cerner-based system as the DoD with an eye toward DoD-VA interoperability. That deal with Cerner has since been delayed.
In the letter, the Democratic lawmakers raise concerns about the temporary appointment of Sandoval, a former Trump campaign staffer, as CIO, citing “serious character concerns that should disqualify Mr. Sandoval for this position.” Politico reported back in April that Sandoval was accused of sexual discrimination and harassment during his tenure with the Trump campaign.
“Likewise, his previous conflicts while working at the Department of Treasury and Veterans Health Administration raise serious red flags and indicate a history of rampant interpersonal conflicts with co-workers. Mr. Sandoval should be removed from his temporary position as CIO and replaced with a first class leader who is capable of implementing the VA’s EHR modernization and fulfilling the VA’s obligation to our nation’s heroes,” the lawmakers wrote.
The Democrats also suggest that Sandoval’s previous position as the Trump campaign’s director of data operations back in 2016 occurred while the campaign was contracting with Cambridge Analytica, the embattled data firm that has come under fire for misappropriating Facebook user data. The Democrats mention “serious data security concerns,” citing Cambridge Analytica’s misuse of personal information from tens of millions of Americans, including veterans. “Mr. Sandoval's role in these activities must be thoroughly examined and he should be put nowhere near veterans' health and benefits data," they wrote.
The Democrats also cite concerns about members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle “inappropriately influencing EHR modernization.” The letter cites reports that President Trump is taking advice from a member of his Mar-a-Lago circle, an internist with no government experience. Politico has reported that a West Palm Beach doctor, Bruce Moskowitz, who has ties to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago social circle, has potentially influenced the delay with the VA-Cerner contract. According to Politico, Moskowitz is a friend of Ike Perlmutter, the chairman of Marvel Entertainment, who advises the President informally on vet issues.
The lawmakers are demanding that VA provide an update on the status of the EHR modernization work, including “information on all contact with Dr. Moskowitz or any other individual who has provided input on EHR modernization outside of VA.” And, the Democrats urge VA leaders to “take meaningful action to ensure transparency and accountability as VA seeks to establish a new EHR system.”