The fiscal 2007 IT budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs was about $1.2 billion. The proposed budget for fiscal 2009, which starts in October, is $2.4 billion.
That's a lot of IT.
That should be very good news for open source. The VA's medical records system, VistA, is not just open source, but public record. There's an active open source project behind it, and a commercial implementation as well.
An open standard with enormous market share and development power behind it sounds cool, but that's not what we're getting.
That's because, in keeping with the Administration's general policy, the VA is privatizing. In November, it chose a proprietary solution for its laboratory software.
Fred Trotter wrote this increased the risk of vendor lock-in for all medical software. Double the budget behind that proprietary attitude and it's hard to see where open standards come from.
As I noted yesterday, the view of the elite business community is coming around to the idea that open source values should direct medical reform, especially in the area of IT.
That view is unlikely to gain much currency so long as the present Administration is in power. And despite the calendar, that power is likely to extend through fiscal 2009, at least on the agency level.
If $2.4 billion goes into a wrong turn, it's a legacy that could take a decade or more to fix. Congress should look closely at how the VA's IT money is going to be spent before they approve it.