The Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs have announced they will seek help from the private sector on finding a way to share personnel files between the two huge organizations. This follows a disastrously unsuccessful attempt to resolve the issue themselves, costing more than $1 billion.

Why has this happened? The VA and DoD are inextricably linked. Service members are a part of DoD and then pass on to the VA, in one form or another. Particularly with regard to medical records, this should have been a no brainer. It has been anything but. Moving DoD military personnel records to the VA requires eight copies of medical records walked to a VA representative, just to begin the transition process. Now multiply that by thousands of active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The system has been choking for far too long.

The VA seemed to be making a bid for enhanced connectivity and the future when they hired former Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki as their boss and Scott Gould as his Deputy. Gould was a senior executive at the IBM Corp, who also had previous government experience in both the Commerce Department and the Treasury Department. This truly seemed like a team that could “fix” the long-dysfunctional but vital organization and bring it into the 21st century. They failed.

It appears that they have finally given up the effort at self-repair and decided to reach out to the private sector, where a huge reservoir of experience and expertise resides. It seems like a natural choice, but for some reason, more than a billion dollars had to be wasted trying to “build it here.” The medical IT industry is one of the biggest and most mature in the world. Piggybacking on this pool of knowledge is the right call, and it is too long in coming.

The population of military members and veterans is one of the most important and vulnerable in our country. They deserve quality service, on time and up to standard. The private sector should be able to deliver that where the government has failed.

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More