The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) can provide better care to its nine million patients by leveraging data that oversees staff onboarding and helps ensure that only qualified clinical staff provide care to veterans, a Feb. 24 report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says.

According to GAO, VHA modified its hiring practices during the coronavirus pandemic to allow new clinical staff to start work immediately, and the administration uses data from USA Staffing to ensure these tasks are eventually completed.

But GAO’s report finds that VHA’s main hiring system doesn’t accurately track these tasks – like fingerprinting and drug testing – to know when they are finally completed.

The watchdog agency emphasizes this is “information VHA needs to ensure that staff are qualified to provide care to veterans.”

GAO’s report finds that the data in USA Staffing are unreliable – incomplete, inaccurate, and not timely – thus limiting VHA’s ability to oversee the onboarding process.

Two factors have led to the unreliable data:

  • The lack of a VHA policy that requires all staff to use USA Staffing to document completion of onboarding tasks; and
  • VHA not providing comprehensive guidance on how to enter data into USA Staffing.

“By requiring the use of USA Staffing and providing comprehensive guidance on entering data into it, VHA can help ensure that it has the data it needs to oversee onboarding and to help ensure that only qualified clinical staff provide care to veterans,” the report says.

VHA is the nation’s largest health care system. In April 2020 – in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) modified the process it used to bring staff onboard at VHA medical facilities in an effort to allow staff to start work quickly and respond to urgent care needs.

According to the VA’s Office of Inspector General, there are inherent risks in bringing staff onboard who are not fully vetted. GAO was asked to examine how VHA ensured that onboarding tasks were completed for staff hired during the COVID-19 pandemic.

GAO is making two recommendations to VA to require the use of USA Staffing to monitor onboarding tasks, and to ensure that the medical facilities have clear guidance for entering USA Staffing data.

VA concurred with GAO’s recommendations and identified steps it would take to implement them.

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.