Members of Congress and a federal auditing agency criticized the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday for a failed effort to launch an electronic medical records system, a project for which the Verona-based Epic Systems was the primary contractor.
The Coast Guard let its contract with Epic Systems expire in 2015, later citing “concerns about the project's ability to deliver a viable product in a reasonable period of time and at a reasonable cost.” The Coast Guard had initially contracted with Epic in 2010 to create a medical records system for its many clinics and sickbays across the globe.
The guard adopted a paper-based records system after killing the Epic Systems project. It began the procurement process for a new electronic records system in 2016.
The failed project is receiving attention now because of a new report issued by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan agency that does auditing and investigative work on behalf of Congress. The report, released on Tuesday, concludes that the Coast Guard mismanaged the project and contributed to its failure.
It specifically found that the Coast Guard did not ensure project leaders were working effectively, that it failed to document its work, and that there was effectively no executive oversight of the project.
According to the GAO, the guard spent nearly $60 million over seven years on the failed project, and will spend millions more still on software fees and equipment removal.
The U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation held a hearing on Tuesday on the project and the military branch’s ongoing efforts to find a new electronic medical records vendor. John Prower, the director of information technology management issues for the GAO, gave testimony, saying that the Coast Guard should treat the agency’s findings as a wakeup call.
“This look back is important to make sure that the Coast Guard corrects the management flaws that led to about $60 million being wasted,” he said.
He also asserted that the lack of oversight of the project was unprecedented, emphasizing that the report found that governance committees formed to lead the project were “not active.”
“I’d like to highlight the words ‘not active’,” he said. “We at GAO have reported on failed IT acquisitions over the years, and usually the message is that executive boards were not effective or not involved enough — not, ‘not active.’”
“If you don’t have executives that are accountable, and breathing down the necks of project managers, that’s what makes this stuff work,” he added.
The subcommittee chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-California, lambasted the Coast Guard for its handling of the project, saying it had “been throwing away good money for years.”
“It’s very strange that there’s nothing,” said Hunter. “There’s 60 million bucks, and you literally got nothing out of it.”
While the report and the hearing focused on the Coast Guard, a member of the subcommittee, Rep. John Garamendi, R-California, did bring up the role of contractors like Epic.
“The Coast Guard is being held accountable, but the contractor also screwed up,” he said. “I want to know who screwed up. Who’s the contractor who screwed up here?”
He added: “I’m just willing to bet, without knowing who they are, I’ll bet they screwed up before. And I’ll bet we hired the same folks who did it before to do another screw-up.”
Epic did not respond to a request for comment on the report and the hearing. However, the company posted a statement in 2016 regarding the project. In that statement, it described delays caused by the Coast Guard’s prolonged hunt for servers and other subcontractors, and major network outages caused by other vendors.
Epic also said that the guard had rated its work as “exemplary” in formal documented reviews.