In response to a hotline complaint, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted this audit to determine if the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provided effective oversight of the installation and deployment of its resilient, high-frequency radio network to ensure reliable communications capabilities during crises and natural disasters. The complainant alleged (1) the network was not functioning as intended; (2) waste, fraud, and abuse had occurred in the network’s approval and implementation; and (3) the radio at the VA Butler Healthcare System in Pennsylvania had not been properly maintained. The OIG substantiated that the network was not functioning as intended. The OIG concluded 82 percent of sites with radios did not have two-way voice communication three years after installation should have finished. The audit team also found waste had occurred in approval and implementation, as VHA’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) did not adequately oversee the network’s acceptance and installation—especially testing to demonstrate operability—or finalize the operations plan. Medical center directors did not provide enough staff to support network operations. Finally, the audit team substantiated inadequate maintenance at the Pennsylvania site. Disagreement between OEM and another office regarding which was responsible contributed to a lapse in the network maintenance contract, affecting sites in Pennsylvania and elsewhere. Delayed implementation and the lack of network operability after spending over $8.5 million leave VA without dependable emergency communications, putting veterans’ and VA employees’ health and safety at risk. The OIG recommended VA medical facilities maintain enough trained staff to operate the network; VHA clarify the program office responsible for the network and finalize the operations plan; and OEM outline requirements for acceptance if additional equipment is purchased, issue guidance about where radios should be installed and monitored, and ensure sites can obtain repairs for network equipment.
Thursday, April 6, 2023
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