The Department of Veterans Affairs is using its increasingly sophisticated data analytics capacities to streamline its internal financial management.
VA Financial Services Center (FSC) Director of Data Analytics Service Scott Meier outlined at the 2022 Databricks Cloud + AI summit how new data-driven capabilities are guiding the disparate funding streams used to support America’s largest civilian agency.
The agency's financial streams and service management are inherently complicated, particularly since the agency manages a range of programs ranging from pension and benefits to full-scale healthcare.
“We get appropriations both in mandatory and discretionary spending through an organization of over 400,000 employees that provides care and support for our benefits and health care administrations," Meier said. "We serve 19 million veterans and over 25.5 million veteran profiles — the reason behind that is every veteran can be participating in more than one health or benefit program."
The efforts behind these activities include tracking of a variety of funding streams and appropriations, particularly when divided between individual departments undergoing their own forms of modernization and technical investment. These challenges are partially mitigated through the FSC’s special status as a franchise fund.
"Franchise funds were created under the Government Reform Act of 1994, and there's only six of us in the entire federal government," Meier said. "We're unique in that we do not get any appropriations through Congress, since all our funding comes through our service level agreement."
This funding model has provided VA with a certain degree of operational flexibility that the agency is using to drive a more efficient approach to financial management
“Being a part of FSC is really key to our success, and the reason I say that is we're able to operate across the entire VA and all the different administrations so we can support them all,” Meier said.
Advancements instated within FSC itself have resulted in a broader modernization of VA's financial management.
“We developed ourselves as a full-service data analytics service, which we call DAS, and we only did that in October 2017, so we really are a very young organization and are still on the maturation process," Meier said. "We started with seven staff, and about 15 contractors supporting us, and today we have over 80 staff and contractors. Our skill sets include data scientists, architects, engineers, our data and business analysts, testers and subject matter experts that work on a variety of different products."
The outcome has sparked more efficient usage of VA funding and an increasingly astute approach to allocations overall, resulting in a reduction in waste, alongside a broader improvement to the delivery of VA services that rely on efficient funding to execute. FSC's in-house expertise and cloud-supported information processing have helped drive more thorough and and refined analytics capacity.
“We currently do analytics and finance, healthcare supply chain, financial management, business transformation." Meier said. "For that oracle system that we're getting in replacing our COBOL system, we do business intelligence on that. Most of our products are internal-facing to the VA, but they do have a downstream impact on veterans, whether it's on care or whether it's on the greater utilization of all the funding that we do from Congress."