Veterans Health Administration Facility Systems: Some Progress Made In Ensuring Year 2000 Compliance, but Challenges Remain

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1997-11-07.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

United States
General Accounting Office
W~ashington, D.C. 20548

Accounting and Information
Management Division


    November 7, 1997

    The Honorable Lane Evans
    Ranking Minority Member
    Committee on Veterans’Affairs
    House of Representatives

    Subject:   Veterans Health Administration Facilitv Svstems: Some Progress
               Made Jn Ensuring Year 2000 Compliance. but Challenges Remain

Dear Mr. Evans:

This letter responds to your October 10, 1997, letter, which asked a question
arising from our September 25, 1997, testimony on Year 2000 initiatives at the
Department of Veterans mairs (VA).’ Your question and our response follow.

Your testimony indicates that       the Veterans Health Administration        (VliA) has
failed to complete an inventory       of the elevator, h-eating, air conditioning,
lighting systems, and disaster       recovery systems at its hospitals.    How critical
a problem is this, and is there      still time to address this problem within the

Ensuring Year 2000 compliance for facility-related systems, such as those
systems controlling elevator, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and lighting
as well as the disaster recovery or backup systems for these products, is a
critical problem for both public and private organizations. Many facilities built
or renovated within the last 20 years contain embedded computer systems that
control, monitor, or assist in operations. Many of these systems could
malfunction due to vulnerability to the Year 2000 problem. For example, on
January 1,200o:

l      Elevators could automatically park themselves on the first floors, open their
       doors, and shut down.

l    _ Heating and air conditioning units could stop functioning properly.

‘Veterans Affairs Comnuter Svstems: Action t-nderwav Yet Much Work
Remains To Resolve Year 2000 Crisis (GAO/T-AlMD-97-174, Sep. 25, 1997).

                              GAO/AIMD9&31R         VHA Year 2000 Facilities Systems


l            Card-entry security systems could cease to operate.

l            Automatic Lighting devices could fail to reactivate.

Addressing the facility-related systems problem is especially critical for VHA,
because it oversees 173 medical centers, 376 outpatient cbnics, 133 nursing
homes, and 39 domiciharies-a total of 721 facilities. VHA recognizes the
criticality of ensuring Year 2000 compliance for such systems; its Year 2000 plan
states that “facility-related system products are vitally important to VHA in
providing quality health-care service.”

VHA has made some progress. Its Year 2000 project office has be,- to
develop a centralized inventory for the facility-related systems at its health-care
facilities. It established a project team, consisting of 20 technical experts in
various facilities systems, to pull together a list of facility-related systems
manufacturers to be used by VHA as the starting point for this inventory. The
team has drafted and plans to send letters to these manufacturers asking if their
products are Year 2000 compliant and what their plans are for achieving
compliance for noncompliant systems or products. Also, VITA’s medical centers
are currently developing an inventory and assessing their facility systems for
Year 2000 compliance. Finally, VHA is also working with the CIO Council’s
newly-formed Year 2000 Building Systems Subgroup on facility-related systems

VII&-however, faces some major challenges.
    .        VHA has a very short tune frame to address the Year 2000 computing
             problem; there are only 26 months remaining until January 1, 2000.
             According to VU’s Year 2000 project manager VHA may not complete its
             assessments of facility-related systems by January 31, 1998.
    .        The project manager indicated that manufacturers may not promptly
             respond to VITA. He further indicated that these manufacturers may not
             lmow if their products are Year 2000 compliant because some of the
             components that make up the product may have been built by others. As a
             result, manufacturers will have to contact the responsible suppliers to
             determine whether the components are Year 2000 compliant.

    0        According to its Year 2000 project manager, VH.A is largely dependent upon
             the manufacturers to determine whether a Year 2000 problem exists and
             how any Year 2000 problems will be corrected. Once manufacturer

        2                            GAO/ADD9831R          VHA Year 2000 Facilities Systems


             responses are received and verified, VHA must provide them to its Veterans
             Integrated Service Networks (VISN) and medical centers so that they can
             complete and implement their plans for Year 2000 compliance.

     l       Finally, VITA must implement the manufacturers’ recommendations for
             achieving Year 2000 compliance of facility-related systems and validate that
             these systems are Year 2000 compliant. Also, VHA must develop
             contingency plans specifically designed for Year 2000 failures and errors.
             These plans must be coordinated with the disaster recovery plans in effect
             at VHA medical centers.

     We discussed a draft of this report with VHA officials, and their comments have
     been incorporated where appropriate. VHA’s Year 2000 project manager said
     that the report accurately refiected VHA’s current situation for facility-related

     In answering this question, we reviewed and analyzed agency documents
     referring to Year 2000 projects-such as VHA’s Year 2000 Plan and VHA’s VISN
     Year 2000 Plans-and interviewed key VHA Year 2000 officials. We conducted
     our work from October 20 through November 5, 1997, in accordance with
     generally accepted government auditing standards.

     We are sending copies of this report to the Chairman of the House Committee
     on Veterans’ A&irs, other interested committees, and the Acting Secretary of
     Veterans Affairs. Copies will also be made available to other parties upon
     request. If you have any questions concerning this report, please contact me at
     (202) 512-6253 or Helen Lew, Assistant Director, at (202) 512-9356. You may
     also e-mail us at wilLemssenj.aimd@gao.gov   or lewh.aimd@gao.gov.

     Sincerely yours,

     Joel C. Willemssen
     Director, Information Resources Management


     3                              GAO/AIMD-9831R      VHA Year 2000 Facilities Systems
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