Despite being part of a recent leadership exodus at the Department of Veterans Affairs, former Chief Information Officer Scott Blackburn said that he was confident that the agency’s pursuit of a new electronic health record system would continue to move forward.

“The plan is still to move forward. Myself leaving or Secretary [David] Shulkin leaving should not have much impact on that,” Blackburn said at an April 23, 2018, Government Information Technology Executive Council summit.

“Things are still moving forward to the best of my knowledge, and I’m looking forward to seeing that contract signed in the next couple of months.”

Just weeks after President Donald Trump fired then-Secretary Shulkin over Twitter, Blackburn announced his retirement over the same platform. Efforts to replace the two have met with controversy.

Blackburn’s confidence in the EHR process stands in contrast to reports that the White House is wavering in its commitment to moving forward on the contract that would bring VA medical records in line with the Department of Defense system. Both the VA press office and representatives for the company the agency plans to contract with for the EHR, Cerner Corp., were unable to confirm recently whether the deal was still moving forward.

According to Blackburn, transitions of leadership can certainly complicate these far-reaching projects, but he expects that there will only be a brief learning period before new leadership moves forward with the EHR.

“I think after Secretary Shulkin left, you have to give the new folks — whether it’s acting Secretary [Robert] Wilkie or hopefully soon-to-be Secretary [Ronny] Jackson, I hope it’s a quick confirmation process — a little bit of time to understand what they’re signing,” Blackburn said.

“But the majority of the team is still in place, and they’ve done a fantastic job. We’re basically at the goal line and I think the folks are just taking a little bit of a pause to understand and make sure it’s set up for success.”

Blackburn characterized government leadership as a relay race, with each person running as fast as they can for as long as they can before handing off the baton and trusting the next person to do the same.

“I’m very excited to hand over the baton and very hopeful that the next team can continue on and build on the progress that we’ve made,” Blackburn said.

The former CIO was also confident that additional IT initiatives, such as the goal to move services provided on onto the primary Veterans Affairs website, would move forward without him. He predicted that, one year from now, veterans would have a TurboTax-like experience for filing their medical claims and that more health care providers would pledge to join the agency in its application programming interface initiatives.

The goal, Blackburn said, is to have the VA “get out of that business of trying to do everything ourselves.”

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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