tv Politics and Public Policy Today CSPAN January 13, 2016 5:00pm-7:01pm EST
decisions to nearly 1.4 million veterans. that is a new record as well. and we did not sacrifice quality. in fact, we improved national accuracy scores from 83% in june of 2011 to -- to nearly 91% in fiscal year 2015. and that's at the claim level. if you drill down to the individual contention, the individual issue level, we are at over 96% on our quality. at the same time we reduced the veterans pension backlog by 93% from a peak of 15,000 claims to less than 1,000 currently. also the number of appeals actions taken by vba increased from -- increased by 30% from 2011 to 2015. these milestones were achieved through implementation of an aggressive and comprehensive information plan that included people, process, technology initiatives and vbms has been
the cornerstone of our technology strategy. our veterans deserve the best possible customer service and vbms is the right tool to support that. while there's more work to be done, our efforts are generating positive and significant results. vbms is poised to drive continued improvements to claims processing, accuracy, timeliness, and transparency. we want to thank the chairman and the members of the committee for their support and resources. mr. chairman, this concludes my statement. we'd be happy to answer questions and thank you for allowing us to appear. >> thank you, ms. mccoy. >> chairman miller, ranking member brown, and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss the inspector general's recent reports on the implementation of vbms as indicated earlier, i'm accompanied today by mr. michael bowman director of the ig's i.t. and security audits decision. va continues to face challenges in developing the i.t. systems
it needs to support its current goals and overall mission. since 2007 we have identified i.t. as a major management challenge for va. our audits in recent years have shown that i.t. system development and management at va is a long-standing, high-risk challenge. despite some advances, our reports indicate the va i.t. programs are still often susceptible to cost overruns, schedule slippages, performance problems and in some cases complete failure. in february, 2013, we issued a report evaluating whether va had performed sufficient testing of vbms. this work assessed whether va was positioned to meet its goal of eliminating the disability claims backlog and attaining a 98% accuracy rate for claims. however, we did note that the system had not been fully developed to process claims from the initial application to benefits delivery and as of
today in some instances that is still the case. in our september, 2015, follow-up report on vbms, we focused on whether va had improved its schedule, cost, and performance to support vbms development. we reported that va remained only partially effective in managing vbs development. we noted that va had stayed on schedule in deploying vbms functionality to all of its regional offices in 2013. however, since september, 2009, total estimated program costs have increased significantly from $579 million to approximately $1.3 billion as of january, 2015. this increase was due to in inadequate cost controls and unplanned changes to business and system requirements and inefficient contracting practices. at this point va cannot ensure an effective return on its investment and the total actual
system development costs still remain unknown. as recently as our january, 2016, the review of alleged problems with claims processing we substantiated a problem with backlog mail waiting to be scanned into vbms. specifically according to vba personnel and our own observations the st. petersburg regional office had more than 41,000 mail packages and over 1,600 boxes of evidence waiting to be scanned into vbms at the scanning facility and that was the picture that the chairman alluded to. visits to the scanning facility show numerous pallets of boxes containing significant amounts of paper documents that had been waiting more than 30 days to be scanned into vbms. this is contrary to va's contract requiring the contractor to scan all evidence into vbms within five days. although vba reports it has made
progress in reducing the backlog and reported significant improvement in claims processing accuracy, we cannot attribute that improvement specifically to vbms. vbms was one of more than 40 initiatives va has undertaken as part of its transformation plan. we have observed and can attribute several factors leading to reducing the backlog, for example, vba spent over $130 million in mandatory overtime in fiscal year 2015 and $125 million in fiscal year 2014. vba also reallocated staff to process only those claims that affect the backlog. while sacrificing other types of claims such as those on appeal and nonrating claims issues. and vba has implemented the fully developed claims process which shortens claims processing times. as for vba's improved claim processing accuracy rate, this could be related to the change in how they are calculating
error rates overall and not specifically to the accuracy of those claims processed in vbms. in conclusion, our recent work demonstrates that va continues to face challenges in developing and managing its i.t. projects. we acknowledge that va has taken some actions to address our outstanding report recommendations for enhanced discipline, oversight and resource management in support of i.t. programs. however, it remains to be seen whether such actions will improve va's ability to meet established cost, schedule and performance goals. given the changing business requirement s the costs will continue to spiral upward and final end state costs still remain unknown. mr. chairman, this concludes my statement and we'd be happy to answer any of your questions or those of the committee. >> thank you very much. ms. melvin, you are recognized for five minutes. >> good morning. thank you for inviting me to discuss va's efforts to develop and implement its benefits
management system vbms. in september, 2015, we issued a report to your committee documenting our system -- our study of the system and my remarks today highlight key findings from that study which, one, assess va's progress toward completing vbms and, two, determine the extent that users reported satisfaction with the system. va began developing vbms in 2009 with the intent of providing automated capabilities to support disability and pensions claims processing and appeals. as of september, 2015, the department reported having spent about $1 billion on its efforts. in this regard an initial version of vbms was deployed to all vba regional offices by june, 2013. and since then as has been noted, the department has continued developing and implementing additional system functionality and enhancements to support electronic claims processing. nevertheless, several aspects of the ongoing efforts to develop
and implement the sims tem could be strengthened, specifically, vbms is not yet able to fully support disability and pension claims or appeals processing as has been noted. while the undersecretary for benefits stated in march, 2013, that the system was expected to be completed in 2015, implementation of functionality to fully support electronic claims processing has been delayed and the department has yet to produce a plan that identifies when vbms will be completed. thus, the department lacks an effective means to hold management accountable for meeting a time frame and demonstrating progress on completing the system. further, as va continues developing and implementing vbms, three additional areas could benefit from increased management attention. first, the program lacks a reliable estimate of the costs for completing the system. without such an estimate,
management and stakeholders have a limited view of the system's future resource needs and the program risks not having sufficient funding to complete the system. second, while va has improved the system's availability to users, it has not established system response time goals. without such goals, users do not have an expectation of the system response time they can anticipate and management does not have an indication of how well the system is performing relative to desired performance levels. third, while the program was taking steps to manage system defects, a recent system release did include unresolved defects that impacted systems performance and users' experiences. continuing to deploy releases with large number of defects that reduced system's functionality could adversity affect users' ability to process disability claims in an efficient manner. beyond these concerns, the department has not conducted a customer satisfaction survey to
compile data on how users view the system's performance and ultimately to develop goals for improving the system. our own survey of vbms users found more than half of them were satisfied with the system, although decision review officers were considerably less satisfied. however, while our survey results provided important data about the use of vbms, the absence of user satisfaction goals limits their utility. specifically, without having established goals to define users' satisfaction, vba lacks user acceptance of the system and for identifying areas where its efforts to complete development and implementation of the system might need attention. our report recommended five actions for improving va's efforts and the department concurred with all of our recommendations. we now look forward to following the department's actions to address them.
mr. chairman, this concludes my oral statement, and i would be pleased to respond to your questions. >> thank you very much. for everybody being here and testifying. real quickly, ms. mccoy, i want to go back to your testimony, in specific your written testimony, where you said you closed fiscal year 2015 having provided claims decisions to nearly 1.4 million veterans exceeding 1 million claims for the sixth year in a row. first of all, i don't want my comments to be perceived in any way of bashing the good people that have been out there that have made a difference and made a dent. but we are trying to find out why the ball keeps moving, why the definition for a backlog claim keeps changing, and, you know, while the focus has been on eliminating the backlog, we think that's great. there have been a tremendous amount of resources that have been given to va in order to do that and we're going to discuss that in just a minute.
but i think you said something about you set a record of delivering benefits to veterans. my question is, if a veteran has appealed the decision, is that veteran getting benefits or are they still waiting? >> so, mr. chairman, thank you for that question. the definition of our backlog has been disability rating claims pending more than 125 days. so, that definition has not changed. and from that standpoint, we did set a record of 1.4 million disability rating claims -- >> but my question is, if the veteran appeals your claim and your rating, is that veteran getting their benefits or are they still waiting in a backlog position? >> mr. chairman, we do have a number of appeals that need to be addressed, and we are working on those every day. >> over 200,000 more appeals. and that's the point.
yes, there has been progress made. but i think by saying that you have reduced the backlog, the inference to the american public is that the veterans are receiving the benefits. and they're not receiving the benefit yet if they're in an appeals position. >> i appreciate your question and your statement, sir. i would point out that 73% of those who have an appeal pending are receiving benefits, and 56% of them are receiving 50% or more. >> they're not receiving their entitled -- i mean, their entire benefit claim. >> and it's important to us that we address those appeals and get them anything more they're entitled to. as we make incremental decisions along the way, there are multiple decisions that are made in the appeals process. if we find that someone is entitled to a benefit, an increased benefit, an additional
benefit, we do pay that along the way. >> both the inspector general and gao found one of the major reasons for the cost overruns associated with the vbms has been due to vba expanding functionality requirements. and i understand some need to do that. but since 2009, how many times has vba changed functional requirements? >> i'm working the mute button over here. sir, i specifically don't have that answer in regards to a specific number. i think what's important to highlight, though -- >> well, but i would like to have the number, so if you would take that for the record. and in addition to that, if you would, how much of the more than $1 billion that's been spent can be attribute to the programmatic change? >> $610 million has been invested into the enhan enhancements --
>> because -- excuse me, sir. >> i'm sorry? >> because of the changes that were required it was a $600 million add? >> no, sir. over the life cycle, the eight-year development life cycle. >> i understand that. >> yes, sir. >> what i want to know is what changes were requested and how much of that $600 million was as a result of those changes, and if you don't have the answer today, if you would, for the record, please provide it. ms. bonntempo, in their september reports both the ig and the gao criticized the va for not training employees on the new features. did you include employee training with each software upgrade and if not, why not? >> absolutely. thank you very much for the question, sir. we absolutely have a training plan. in advance of every release and as ms. mccoy pointed out, we
have software releases every three months. we employ a train the trainer model. and the trainers that we talk to in advance of that release are called super users. >> thank you very much for that. i'd like to ask the gao and the ig to respond to that. because in your report you said there was not adequate training for the new software updates. >> i'm going to defer to the ig on that. i believe their report was more specific to that particular issue. >> okay. thank you. mr. bowman. >> yeah, during our field work in 2013 and 2014, we interviewed over 90 users of vbms. and we heard quite a few complaints about new releases. an emphasis on pushing on functionality without the end users knowing how to use that functionality. there was a lot of complaints that there was inadequate tra
training for them to leverage the functionality to help process claims. >> ms. bontempo, my last question is the cost has risen from $580 million to $1.3 billion. substantial investment has been made. this congress has provided those dollars. but it's still not functionality operational after six years. i'm sure that can be argued, but there's going to be more money required. so, my question is, what's the current life cycle cost estimate for vbms? >> and i very much appreciate that question -- >> and for the record, whether you appreciate the questions or not, you don't have to take the time to say that. we appreciate you answering the questions. >> well, i do appreciate that your staffers came over about a month ago. i think it was a very good conversation. and as part of that -- >> if you would just answer the question. >> so, as we submitted in our
prehearing questions, we will never stop looking for ways to improve our service to veterans. however -- >> you'll never start or stop? >> we will never stop. >> okay. sounded like you said start. >> maybe it's that little bit of a southern accent, sir, i'm sorry. >> i'm sorry, i'm from the south, too. i understand southern dialect. the cost is? the life cycle cost is? >> so, we will be turning our attention to new innovations as part of the fy-'18 budge it. >> so it will cost more than $1.3 billion. ms. brown? >> thank you, mr. chairman. ms. mccoy, both of these reports are over a year. can you tell me what you've done to address and bring -- and implement this recommendations that both agency made?
>> i'd be happy to chair that, ma'am. there have been a number of different things that we have done as far as training. back in 2013 and even early in 2014 when these reports were generated, when you get a new something, a new piece of technology, a new smart phone, i think there's that big learning curve that comes up front with that. it's brand new, you're getting used to it. and there's some change management that goes with that. so, we did work with our employees to get through that change management and we had many different mechanisms to get feedback from our employees and the users about how that was going. chat rooms. change management agents in every regional office. we had users -- we always have users that are involved with testing and with requirements building, so there are many mechanisms. we also have minute videos that we put out for our employees over the past couple of years.
i've done one myself and they are videos that help people on their desktops see functionality if there's something new, they can see somebody using it. yes, ma'am. >> yes, ma'am. let me go right to the heart of the question. the question i have is that we had a serious backlog. we had how many veterans was not getting services. and, of course, once they get in the system, it's one of two things. you give them a certain percentage or you give them -- once you cleared it, you make it retroactive. but there are some cases that's more complicated. and so can you give us quickly just, like, in 30 seconds? >> yes, absolutely, ma'am. so as far as the backlog, you noted we were at 611,000 in march of 2013. we reduced it 90%.
currently 70,000, 80,000 claims. as far as timeliness, we have improved it from almost 300 days 280-some days down to 92 day, 94 days. so the timeliness and delivery improvements have been there. we also have -- >> these are backlogs. >> we also granted more benefits. since 20 -- 2009 and for decades before that, the average compensation paid to a veteran for disability claims was about 30%. just in the past few years it's risen to an average of 47%. so, we are paying more veterans. we are paying a higher percentage of veterans' claims. some of this started when we added three new presumptive conditions back in 2010 for agent orange exposed veterans. so, that big extra work, those additional veterans we were able to serve and pay benefits to, that was a fantastic thing. we were glad to do that, but it also bogged down the system, if
you will, and we had to work through the work. and vbms and other transformation initiatives have enabled us to do it from a people, process, and technology stand point. >> one of the things -- there are some -- and the veterans come to me because once they put their application in, you're processing it. some of them are simple, and it's -- but part of the problem is that so many veterans have several different. and so you can't just go in and do a checklist. can you explain that? >> absolutely. so, there are -- it is our goal to process every claim, disability rating in 125 days. but we won't do that just for the sake of hitting a number. we want to make sure that every veteran gets everything they're entitled to and there are
sometimes -- there are some cases that are more complex. veterans living in foreign countries, veterans with radiation exposure. veterans who move around the country and aren't able to appear for a va examination. getting some treatment records particularly national guard reserve records from dod. there are some things that are harder to do. and we can't do it within 125 days. another big reason is if you have filed a claim for a few conditions and midway you add another condition, we don't stop our clock. we continue to process and make sure you get everything you're entitled to, but it may take us longer than 125 days. ma'am, those are the reasons that there are still about 70,000 claims pending in our backlog. >> thank you. and i yield back the balance. >> real quick. i think you said your claims -- the number of claims that you process appropriately was -- what was the percentage? 90? >> at the issue-by-issue level over 96%.
>> so for the 200,000 plus people who are now in appeals, how does that factor into that rating? >> so, we have not found a correlation between quality of the initial rating decision and the appeal. people are entitled to appeal anything that they choose. there are some folks who appeal things that they're not entitled to. but they're entitled to that due process. we go through every appeal very seriously and look for anything that they -- >> so, basically they're disagreeing with your 4% and -- >> no, i would not say that. they're disagreeing with the decision they got for whatever reason. it may be -- >> but you're still saying it was 96% correct. >> absolutely. >> okay. very good. >> thank you, mr. chairman, i appreciate. and i thank the panel for their testimony as well. ms. mccoy, when claims are processed in the absence of supporting evidence, what could
potentially happen to a veteran's disability claim? >> we do an exhaustive development process to get all of the evidence that's relevant to a claim. we do that up front. and we work with the veteran, their representative and other service providers, other federal records. we do an exhaustive search to get everything up front. >> what could possibly happen to veterans' claims if evidence is not submitted? >> if evidence is not submitted, we don't have it to consider and we make a decision and weigh the evidence that we have. subsequently we find that we miss something, a veteran submits something late, a doctor finds something in a drawer and that's medical evidence we consider, we will revisit that claim. >> how long will that take? how long would a veteran have to wait for their claims because the evidence is not submitted due to the fault of the va? >> there might be many reason for the -- for the reason that we don't have that evidence. and that would be a case-by-case
basis. >> thank you. next question for mr. arante. based on your office's investigation, do you agree with the vba's insistence that the st. peterburg's ro's were not mal made due to poor documents? >> can you repeat on that? >> do you agree with the fact that the st. petersburg backlog was not due to poor preparation of handling of documents? >> we believe it was due to poor management and it do affect the timeliness of claims processing. i think it added -- you can't say just that alone. but from july or june, 2014, to the end of december their average time to process claims
jumped about 29 points. so, to say 18,000 documents did not affect claims processing timeliness, i don't think anybody could say that. >> are there any plans for the vba to ensure that the claims in this ro backlog were not negatively affected resulting in denials or claims receiving lower ratings due to missing and unprocessed evidence of a claimant? >> congressman, we process all of our claims, and we -- in the electronic system, and we now have that centralized mail system which was what we went into in july of 2015 in -- >> thank you. mr. arante, please? can you respond to that question? >> i'm sorry, could you repeat that? >> again, are there any plans for the vba to assure the claims this ro backlog were not negatively affected resulting in denials or claims receiving lower ratings due to missing and
unprocessed evidence of a claimant? do you have any information with regard to that? this affects my constituents. >> right. i have no information. they're going to process the mail. are they going to go back and make it right? that's -- that's a question for vba. but i have no knowledge that they or they're not. >> ms. mccoy? >> congressman, we make sure that we -- to the extent possible we have all the evidence when we make a decision. the amount of mail that was in the mail portal at that time in july of 2015 was -- this was a new process for us. we were learning from it and st. petersburg was one of our earliest adopters. there were pieces of mail in the regional office that were what we call dropped mail. they were not active mail, but they needed to be put with the folder. an example would be a copy of a letter we sent out. so, it's not a piece of evidence, but it needs to be with the folder. so, we had a cleanup effort in
st. petersburg and other places where we had to get that drop mail associated -- >> how many of our heroes were negatively affected by this? >> i would say that there was some time delay in the processing. but there was no a delay in making sure that the right decision was made for the veteran. >> thank you. mr. arronte, in the caci scanning facility would you say that the va staff followed vba's shipping standard on thing procedure on veterans intake program regulations? >> sir, no. i don't think that was followed. i don't know how -- i guess if i found 100 pieces of mail i could say maybe that was a mistake or somebody didn't manage that properly. but 18,000 pieces of mail? i don't know if there was any procedures being followed. i just don't know how that amount of mail accumulates. >> okay. thank you. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> ms. mccoy, one quick question before i recognize another
member, out of all the mail in st. petersburg that was shown in that photograph, has everything now been scanned and processed? >> everything has been scanned. and -- >> and what happened with that, once it gets scanned, what happens with that material? >> so, the drop mail that we had scanned, it was associated with a folder. if there's no action that needs to be taken -- >> no. the boxes that we saw. >> yes. >> you scanned it. >> yes. >> where are those boxes? >> i do not believe all of those boxes that we saw on the page were st. petersburg. that is not my understanding. once they're scanned, they go into the vbms electronic claims folder. currently -- >> okay. what was the box -- what were the boxes that we showed the picture of? >> it's my understanding there was a storeroom at that facility where they had training materials and other materials that were already scan and ready to be sent. >> i think there were ship labels on those as if they were shipped to be scanned. so, i guess my question is, that
information, where is it now? >> the information that needed to be associated with a veteran's folder has been sc scanned and put in a folder. >> all those boxes, where are those boxes today? >> sir, you're asking about the physical boxes themselves. >> and the material in the boxes. >> that material would have been processed and sent to a long-term storage facility that -- >> so, you still have the boxes of information that was scanned somewhere? >> they exist somewhere, yes, sir. >> okay. could you find them for us? >> we -- >> i'm going to make an official request because you're making out as if this is just junk mail. >> no, sir. >> okay. yes, you are. and it's not junk mail, so this committee would like to see what was in those boxes. i know it's going to be difficult. i know the secretary's going to raise cain and i'd rather not do it with a subpoena. i'd rather do it because this committee's asking in a good faith effort. you got to hold some people
accountable. i have yet to hear you say that because these people did not meet their contractual requirements that they're going to be held accountable. >> we have had additional oversight at that facility. >> accountability. >> and we have worked with that contractor to make sure that they understand what our expectations are. >> and how were they held accountable for not meeting the terms of their contract? >> i don't have that information. i would have to take it for the record. >> will you take it? >> i will, sir. >> when can we expect an answer? >> i will go back and work with the individuals within vba that manage that contract, and i'll get an answer as soon as possible. >> in other words, i don't want to hear any of that stuff was shredded. >> that was not shredded, sir. >> okay. mr. brownlee? >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you for having this hearing. certainly in my opinion we have to continue to have these hearings until we get it absolutely right for our veterans. i will say, though, that i --
back in november i visited the los angeles regional office and met with vba employees there. saw the process. and met with vba employees without their managers there. met with them privately to get their feedback on how the transition was going. and i will say that they acknowledged that the process was rather rocky, but they feel as though the processing now in a paperless fashion is much more efficient and more accurate. and they describe it as, you know, a night-and-day difference. so, i do think that it's important that we acknowledge the progress that we have made. i do think that there is still more that needs to be done to
make sure that we are processing these claims on a timely basis, you know, across the country and that we have -- get a better handle on the appeals process as well, so it's a, you know, a fail-safe service that we can provide to our veterans and obviously these benefits are very important to them and they have earned and deserve them. so, in following up on mrs. brown's questioning just to ask a few more specific questions. i know on the implementation timelines, this question is to ms. mccoy, one of the gao's chief concerns was about -- was about the timeline for reaching 100% implementation. has the va addressed that concern? >> i will start that answer, and i would turn to ms. bontempo to supplement my answer.
from the original intended goal of vbms, the idea was to create an electronic repository, an electronic file room if you will. and we have accomplished that. we rolled it out at the end of 2012 to the first five stations, and by june of 2013 to all 56 regional offices. so, they had that functionality that was the original intent. we didn't stop there. we went on to add in automation, because that made sense and that was the right thing to do for veterans and for our employees. and if ms. bontempo could add to that. >> thank you. i appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk about why is vbms different. vbms is different because we use what we refer to as agile methodology, and that means that we can release software every three months and bring high value functionality to the field as quickly as possible to serve
our veterans. that is a little different than maybe you've seen before. and so as a result, once we were able to deliver that electronic folder, a lot of folks were able to look around and say, wow, you could do so much more. so, we turned our attention to what is the so much more that we could do. so, let me give you an example of that. one of those is being able to receive the electronic service treatment records from dod. another one is the evaluation builders. the evaluation builders, they take over several hundred pages of documents that look at the nearly 800 diagnostic codes that are part of the rating schedule, and they assist with that standardization and consistency across vba to make sure that our veterans are served. >> so, what about, though, just -- and i appreciate your responses and those are important elements.
but in terms of the timeline in reaching 100% implementation, when do you expect that to happen? >> so, we have reached 100% of our original goal. and our original goal was the electronic folder. >> so, of your new goals, you know, how are you monitoring your new goals now? >> correct. and so as we submitted in our prehearing questions, we do understand that there needs to be an end time. and so we are looking at what a new investment would be and what that new innovation would be as part of the fy-'18 budget process. >> so, you're working on a time frame for new goals, new goals being important to full implementation and better operational procedures, you're working on that timeline and will have it by 2018? >> 2018 is when we would intend to start a new investment. >> thank you.
i yield back. >> also, members, for the record, there are two instances and staff has just clarified with me. one is the installation in georgia that we showed the picture of that had the -- what we considered unsecure information on veterans. that was the stacks of boxes. not the 45,000 claims i believe that were for st. petersburg. am i correct in that, ms. mccoy? >> that is -- >> okay. very good. >> sorry. that is my understanding. >> okay. thank you. we want the boxes. we want to see them. we don't want you to bring them here. we will go wherever they are. mr. costello? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i have a question for mr. arronte, in fiscal year 2015 your office substantiated at least six allegations of data manipulation in vba regional
offices, two in houston, one in los angeles, one in philadelphia, one in honolulu, one in little rock. given these findings, how can we trust va's statistics indicating that the department has substantially reduced the disabilities claims backlog? can you share with us what methodology you went through so that we can feel confident that the claims backlog has been reduced by the amount that it, in fact, is indicated? >> yes, sir. i think that -- the methodology that we used was -- first of all, let me back up. first of all, in the two houston situations vba actually reached out to us. they were aware of the data manipulation before we were, and we went out and then we obtained the data that was manipulated, and we took a statistical sample and we tested those samples. and that was the case in all regional offices. and we determined that data
manipulation did occur. and at three of the facilities the employees resigned. and our concern is when you manipulate data, and that data is in a set, for instance, like vor, as long as that corrupt data stays in the system, you don't go back and fix that and fix the data claims or correct whatever manipulation happened, that data is corrupt. and it's going to remain corrupt until those claims are out of the system. so do we believe that this had an affect on the backlog? to some degree it did. we don't -- we don't -- we're not -- we don't believe that all the numbers are reliable. >> okay. you don't believe all the numbers are reliable in relation to how much the claims backlog has been reduced? >> yes. and not just from the data manipulation. i mean, if you manipulate data
and you don't clear the system of that corrupt data, that system stays crumb. if you manipulated 3 ,000 claims to show that they were either done early or not done at all, then that number reduces from the backlog, that's an incorrect number because the data was manipulated and we also -- we did a report on vba's claims processing initiative to process claims over two years and what we found was they were touting that they reduced all or cleared all these claims when, in fact, they just shifted. they shifted from the backlog to an end product that they used to track claims, and that end product was not part of the backlog. >> i appreciate your candor. two questions. two points. one, could it be, then, that the claims backlog is actually higher than is now indicated? number two, moving forward, will the focus be in ensuring that
new claims do not become part of the backlog while simultaneously conceding that those that have already been manipulated, it's very difficult to go back in and deal with data that's been manipulated because those claims -- to your point a little while ago, those claims it's impossible to sort of sift through some of that because the data's already been crumb orrup? >> for the second question i think that's probably better asked of vba and how they're going to process these types of claims and when they find instances where employees have manipulated data, what are they going to do to ensure the data is correct. i can tell you what we're going to do this year, we're going to start two reviews here shortly. one of those reviews is to look at the mail process and the scanning process, which is the front end of vbms, and we're also going to look at data integinte
integrity of vba's reporting mechanisms and how they capture information for their metrics and we want to see how they count their numbers. >> so talking about the issue of data integrity and you say you want to look at that, does that mean there could be issues there? >> yes. we believe based on the sixi i s incidences that we corroborated last year that there may be a systemic issue across the nation, so we're going to test their data reliability. >> again, i do appreciate your candor, and it seems that based on the testimony we're not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the measure. >> i would say right now it would be safe to say we're not out of the woods. >> and i probably shouldn't use metaphors. >> i'm with you. >> i yield back. >> hi, ms. mccoy or does either you or any of your colleagues want to respond to some rather serious statements made by mr.
arronte? >> thank you for the chance to do that. a couple points i want to make. we have more robust and transparent data and reporting systems now with vbms than we have ever had before. we have ways. every acon that is taken in our systems, there's -- i would call it an electronic fingerprint that is left so we can go back and see who did what. we did not have that in a paper-based world, number one. number two, i do not agree with mr. arronte's statement that all of those regional offices that he mentioned had a data manipulation substantiated. one example i would give is little rock. so, very quickly, there was a fas letter that was released, 1310, and it was instructing regional offices -- it was a national policy -- to if you found an old claim, to use a
current date of claim to process it because we did not want to dissuade a claims processor who opened up a file and said, oh, my goodness, there's a claim in here that somebody missed from 17 years ago. we didn't -- we wanted to encourage have been to make sure veterans got everything that they were deserving. so, we said, we won't count that, you know, bring it forward. we want to make sure we capture that. and we will use a current date of claim. it was a very minuscule number of claims that we did that, but it was intended to make sure veterans' missed claims were captured. at the little rock office, ig found that they changed some of these date of claims using the national policy but they kept a very extensive log to go back in -- they knew which ones they did. so, i struggle, because ig says they substantiated that these date -- of claim were changed,
but yet it was in line with the national policy. so, that's a rock and a hard spot. do they not follow national policy or -- so, i -- i disagree that there was data manipulation there. they were following the national policy. we can disagree -- we can agree or disagree about whether the national policy was correct. it has since been rescinded. we do that anymore. but that is not a data manipulation situation. >> ms. mccoy, an important takeaway i'm getting from your testimony is the new capacity of an electronic system versus the previous paper system which existed in the previous administration throughout the duration of that administration. my understanding is that we initiated under this administration the electronic system, and the initial cost estimates were lower. it costs us a lot more to
implement this system and to develop this system, but you might want to -- can i ask you to comment on the advantages of moving forward with an electr electronic system with all its flaws? are we better off today than we were under the previous seven to eight years as we saw our veterans' claiming rising for obvious reasons? >> thank you, sir. we are much better off and veterans are much better off because of the electronic system that we have built. we were behind the eight ball. we were outdated in our paper-based system. we should have done this years ago. so, the cost of kind of catching up and doing that now has been that there has been a lot of change that our employees have had to go through. there has been a cost to do that catch-up -- >> you mean to tell me for the entire duration of the previous administration the seven to eight years when we started our conflicts, the intervening conflicts around the world, that
there was no attempt to establish an electronic claims system? >> we had little bits and pieces of our claims that were paperless. but there was no a wholesale effort until the last few years. >> so, the effort to automate and to bring a complete electronic claims system into operation started in 2009 basically? >> foundationally, yes. >> foundationally, okay. and we are far better off than under a paper -- a paper-based system, with all the flaws and all of the hiccups and one would say underestimated costs. can you tell us -- well, my time is running out. my colleagues will ask what we can do to help further this along. >> well -- [ inaudible ]? >> okay.
>> and i yield back. >> excuse me. yeah, no, you're welcome to answer the question. >> okay, thank you, sir. i would very quickly say that there are a number of things that we can do now with an electronic sils t iic system th never before. we receive service records from dod. we don't have to go hunting for those. we can move work fluidly around the country and the entire system and get the full capacity out of our employees. we could not do that before except very inartfully with boxing up paper records and shipping them around. we are able to use automation to speed up and standardize the decisions that we make. we are -- we bring over disability questionnaire information electronically from vha that prepopulates the system. there are keystrokes that are saved. our employees don't have to type every single keystroke -- >> i gave you extra time.
i think the question was what can we do to help. >> i'm sorry, sir, i was so excited telling you about what we were getting from this system. >> thank you. >> i would -- i would say that. >> thank you. >> i would say the support we've received already has been phenomenal. we would ask for your continued support and the interaction we've had with this committee and your staffs for ideas and ways we can improve the system. >> following mr. takano's tact, since i've been chairman of this committee, you've received great support. is that correct, just like under the obama administration, you were talking about how the electronic medical record has gone on in the last few years, correct? >> well, mr. chairman, i wanted to point out that we had a paper-based system. >> under the previous administration. >> under the previous administration. the electronic system we're trying to move to with vbms has
obviously had its share of problems, but my contention is that we're probably better off even with all the problems we had, and i would say unexpected costs, than we were had we not attempted to do that. >> i concur. >> and i'm glad you're interested in the question about what can congress do to continue the process of getting the system to work as it should. >> but it can't be pouring more and more and more money with no cost controls, and i think that's what the committee needs to focus on is the fact that while ms. bontempo says we can't tell you what it's going to cost, well, it's going to be 147% increased, and a huge increase in cost. your time is expired. the one question i would ask ms. mccoy is why was the fas letter
rescinded? >> there were a number of policy and procedural discussions and we thought it was best to rescind that. >> why was that? >> i wasn't involved in all the discussions. >> could it have been there was manipulation taking place because of the way the fas letter was designed? >> i think it was that we had a chance to see how it was realized and we made a decision -- >> mr. arronte, could you kbhent? >> i agree with ms. mccoy that at little rock they found this information, and they corrected the information, but the fact is they followed the fast letter, the same fast letter we had problems with in philadelphia. data manipulation, i'm not sure if that's the right or wrong term. if you go in and change data, regardless of the your policy is good or bad, you still change
data and the data is corrupt. i would suspect that the fast letter was rescinded and i was part of the discussion related to the incidents that happened in the philadelphia regional office when they were manipulating data there, that it was rescinded because it was bad policy because data was being manipulated. >> thank you. mr. huelskamp. >> thank you, mr. chairman. appreciate the topic and the discussion and the reports here. i will remind the committee i think it was approximately two years ago that we stood here and heard other glowing reports right before a lot of data manipulation scandals did break. i hope we're not going there. i want to establish the facts here, as you understand them, ms. mccoy. the backlog data, there's no question you believe it's improved and the backlog is down to -- how many veterans are awaiting claims? >> the backlog has been greatly
reduced. currently we are about 88% reduced from what we were -- >> how many veterans are still waiting? >> in the backlog, this morning it was about 80,000. >> they all have electronic file attached to them, correct? >> 99.8% of our disability claims work is paperless. >> you should be able to generate a list of my constituents wait manage the backlog? >> we can do that. >> thank you. the second thing, if i understand it correctly, we don't know what the cost is going to be, we know it's been overrun by $720 million. we still don't know what the final cost will be for implementation, is that correct? >> i would say that -- i'll turn to my colleagues to supplement. but i'll say from the beginning of where we started with electronic repository check and moving forward, continuing to
build out the automation, the functionality, that's something we probably will never finish. >> is that what you told congress when you requested the money, that you had no idea what it was going to cost? >> i'll ask -- >> you didn't. what i want to establish, trying to figure out, you don't know what the final cost is going to be? >> i'll ask -- >> you'll go through the appropriations process this year and say we want more money but we don't know when this will end and what the final cost will be for a very specific project, is that correct? >> let me take that in two parts. the first is, in a traditional i.t. project that we would call waterfall which is essentially we gather all those requirements up front and turn them over to i.t., then they build a system, and years later you have something delivered that may not be meeting your user needs. that's a traditional i.t. project. we did not go down that path. we used something called agile which allowed us to take and
build requirements as we were going along. vbms was not intended to be 100% complete on day one. we deliver every three months that high value functionality. as we are going through the process t budgeting process that you're referencing, we will be looking at a new investment to look at new innovations as part of the fy 18 process. >> so how much are you going to ask for on top of the $580 million that's now at $1.3 billion? you're just trying to tell us, we'll let you know how much we need. >> so the fy '17 budget is working through the department and as soon as it is released to congress we'll be happy to talk to that more. >> but 2018, is that the -- when this particular project will be completed? you keep talking about 2018. >> 2018 is when we're looking at
a new investment. and a new investment will allow us to take advantage of what we have done so far and what other things could we bring in to that. >> how do you hold your contractors accountable, particularly like the folks in the scanning facility in georgia -- by the way, did they lose any money over that? did you punish them financially for all those records that were sitting there and presumably i'm guessing some might have been lost? >> i mentioned earlier i would check on that to make sure we deliver that, anything that was done. there were no records lost, and there was not a wrongdoing. there was a clean-up effort that needed to be done and we have completed that. >> the contractor was held accountable -- this was a year ago. that picture is from a year ago. >> it doesn't look like that any longer, sir. >> what did the contractor -- did you go and say, sorry, let's
fix this up? could you describe how you held the contractor accountable? if i were you, i would be very embarrassed. that's the first time i've seen this picture. i'm assuming that's going to show up in a lot of places across the country. your explanation is we held them accountable how? >> i don't have that information with me, sir. i'll take that for the record and provide that. >> i appreciate that. again, this picture is year old. you knew about this a year ago. your staff knew about that from the folks we heard from at this table. i'm disappointed a year later you can't say, hey, this has been taken care of and this is why. you assured us this has been taken care of but you can't tell us what you did with the contractor that failed. that's what i worry about when you say you have a never ending project with a never ending price tag that has moving goals. you tell us at the beginning it's only going to be $580 million, but magically at $1.3
billion with no end in sight, no time frame in sight, we'll let you know in 2018 -- by the way, we'll be under another administration. with that, i'll yield back. >> dr. ruiz, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for being here. thank you for your efforts. i know your intentions are to serve our veterans with the utmost quality. there's wins and losses and a lot of interrogation from this committee, i'm sure. i think we need to take a step back and look at the big picture. this hearing is about backlog. backlog is a description of a metric definition saying we don't have resolution on a veterans application for their benefits after 125 days. we're even going even more specific away from the big picture when we focus on vbms since that's only one of several tools we have to help us reduce
the backlog. however, after many conversations with our veterans, after many attempts in advocacy fighting the system, helping the veterans back home and visiting the l.a. regional office with representative brownley to hear from staff and others, we must ask what does backlog mean for veterans especially when we try to become a veteran-centered institution of excellence for them? what does it mean for our veterans when we throw out these terms, backlog? one is the claims that they believe they have earned are not being answered? what does that do to a veteran? that means they're waiting anxiously. there's more stress. stress affects their health. that means they're not getting the resources are services that they need. two, that they're not getting the benefits they deserve.
granted some claims that they're applying for they're not going to get because they don't qualify under the current requirements. however, the worst case scenario is we have a veteran who actually deserves the benefits, and they've been waiting so long and they're suffering from morbidity or whatever economic hardships that they're undergoing because they're not getting what they should. it's a systematic problem that they're not getting that benefit that they should, and even worse, that they should get the benefit, but they've been denied. now they're in the appeals process what does it mean to a veteran? it means their quality of life is not where it should be and that's why all of this is important. three, the appeals is part of a continuum of that process. so we talk about backlog and we're focusing on backlog. so we're looking at this one
backlog metrics of the claims application. but then once we get an answer -- we say reduce the backlog because we gave them an answer. the answer is just a half of what the veteran is looking for. so then they want to appeal, and the actual outcome of this is they want their benefit. so the appeals process should not be seen as a completely entirely separate set of metrics if we're going to look at the veterans experience. the appeals process should be seen as a continuum of that. the other thing i need to note is that oftentimes we're looking at costs and we would definitely love to reduce costs and make it efficient because cost is a part of efficiency that we want to produce the best outcome for the least amount of resources as possible. but cost is not stagnant. cost is dynamic.
the reason why we can't predict what the cost is going to be next year or five years or ten years from now is because veterans needs change. veterans needs are dynamic. our ability to improve our efficiencies are dynamic. those are metrics that are out of our control. so when we have an influx of veterans coming back from the middle east, when we have an increase in our efficiency, therefore, we're able to reach out to more veterans and process their needs quicker -- for example, in 2006, since then we've had 191% increase in output. then we are moving the pieces so we can get the veterans the answer in what they need. having said that, looking at the big picture, how can we reform the metrics system so we can take the veterans experience and look at, are the veterans getting resolutions to their
answers and, two, are they getting the benefits that they earn and they deserve from day one when they fill their application to whatever end point it may be, whether it's the appeals process as well. >> you have two seconds. i'm just kidding. please answer the question. go ahead. >> thank you, sir. i would like to make a couple quick points. to your point, sir, that the number of cases that we resolve, i just want to share a couple of metrics and then i'll move on. in fy 2006 which is as far back as we can drill down to the issue by issue level with our data, while we completed 774,000 rating claims, in that there were almost 2.2 million different issues. it was an average of 2.8 issues per claim. this last year in fy '15, we really hit that big number.
it was almost 1.4 million rating claims completed. but within that, it was 6.3 million issues. so that, as you mentioned, has been 191% increase in the amount of work we have had to do to deliver those benefits, an average of 4.6 issues per claim. so a claim is not a claim. we're doing more work per claim than we were in the past. those who appeal see it as a continuum. i struggle with how to make it one long continuum because only 10% to 11% of veterans who receive a decision actually file an appeal. only 4% to 5% go all the way through to file a formal appeal. so the majority of those who get decisions do not appeal. so within the appeal process, we
have more work -- much more work than we can tackle. it is a broken appeals system, and we have talked to stakeholders, our veterans service officer partners. we're looking for solutions and we welcome any ideas and solutions. we need significant legislative reform for the appeals loophole, closing the record. the only other alternative i can see is more people. that is not an efficient answer. >> how about using resolution as a metric? resolution from day one to the final, final answer for our veterans and looking at that in the whole continuum? >> did i hear you just say the va wants legislative approval to close a veterans appeals process? >> we have had that as a
legislative proposal to close the record, yes, sir. on appeal. >> how far did that go legislatively? >> we're still -- we've introduced it several times is my understanding, and we're still working on that. >> i don't know that you will get this committee to allow the v. a. to close a veterans appeal just because you want to clean your books up. >> that's not the intent, sir. >> thank you, mr. chairman. ms. mccoy, i've heard from a lot of my constituents about the backlog problems in the denver va office, particularly on non-rating adjustment claims. the va's own denver office numbers from last week pegged the average days pending on non-rating claims at 384 days, over a year, and that assumes
this data is reliable, something the ig is sceptical of based on the reviews in the denver office and related to reports of data manipulation. one constituent told the wait time may be two years, simply to add dependence to her award which means in the meantime her children are not eligible for dependent education benefits. can you explain why some of these simple non-rating adjustments could take so long? it seems like more of a management issue than an i.t. issue given the simplicity of many of them? >> congressman, i will speak on the non-rating element to the dependency as you mentioned. we have many different solutions for dependency. it is our agency priority goal
for fy '16 and '17. we're putting a more concentrated effort on resolving dependency claims. there is the rules-based processing system called rbps. veterans can file online and about 60, 65% go through and are automatically processed within just a day or two. >> so where would this two-year wait come, where would that come from? >> there are some situations where we have tried to put those through the rbps system multiple times as we have added functionality. there are still instances where we're still looking for evidence or information. we are prioritizing -- >> let me go to the ig if i could. mr. arronte, i wonder if you could comment on this issue. >> yes, sir. i would suspect this is a goal for vba in fiscal year '16 and '17 because during the push to
reverse the backlog, a lot of resources were moved to rate and process those claims. in my written statement -- in my opening statement we have seen, because of this shift in the reallocation of staff to work claims associated with the backlog, they've created backlogs in other areas. >> more of a management than an i.t. issue? >> i absolutely believe so. >> thank you. mr. mccoy, according to the september 14th -- 2015 oig report, cost for the cost of vbms increased from nearly $579 million in september 2009 to almost $1.3 billion in january 2015. the ig attributed the cost increases to quote, inadequate cost controls, unplanned changes in system and business requirements and inefficient contracting processes, unquote. those details sound an awful lot
like the construction debacle we had in my district with the building of the hospital and the incredible cost overruns on that. can you give us any specifics in terms of va employees? first of all, who was in charge of the day to day oversight in the vbms development of the system? >> i would ask mr. schliesm and mr. bontempo to speak to that. >> who was in charge of that? >> i'm the veteran of the vbms program management system office. i work within the vba chain of command. >> are you in charge? that's my question. >> in the -- >> tell me whether or not you're in charge of the day today management of this system. >> on the business side. on the i.t. side there are folks in charge of those operations. i'll defer to mr. schliesm to
talk about that. >> those are in support of the agency's priority goals, determined by the secretary on the needs of supporting the veteran. >> i'm not going to get a clear answer here. let me put it this way, can you tell me, can you tell me for what the ig has determined in terms of the cost management overruns in the management of the system. >> again, sir, the cost overruns alluded to here were deliberate -- >> i guess the answer is no, is that correct? the fact that we've got these incredible cost overruns. mismanagement has been identified by the ig. what you're telling me is nobody has been disciplined which is really reflective of va's culture in terms of just the bureaucratic incompetence. ms. mccoy, as you know, there
are not only claims backlog -- okay. mr. chairman. i yield back. sorry. >> dr. rowe. >> just to clarify what mr. takano was saying, this electronic transfer of records occurred in medicine. in 1989, this was a progression that all -- the public sector was actually behind the product sector. i wish he were here to clarify that. first of all, i've been here seven years, less than the chairman has. the claims backlog is better. there's no question in -- maybe a million. a huge number of claims. i think the va is moving in that direction. i thank you for that. i also -- mr. arron they brought
up very interesting comments about bad data creates bad decisions. if you have corrupt data in your system, you can't -- that's a problem the va has had with us in the committee. we've lost trust. we can't believe the information -- we'll hear one thi thing. when we do an investigation, we find out there was nothing like that. nobody intentionally did that. it just happened because you gave us corrupt data. i know what mr. coffman pointed out, this does seem symptomatic. we look at it's embarrassing to go home, back to east tennessee where people don't make a lot of mon money, where the average incomes in my county are less than
$25,000 for families of four. we have a billion dollar overrun in denver and we have a $700 million miscalculation hear, it's hard for me to go home as their representative and explain that to them when you have a veteran waiting on an answer for a claim that's been submitted. i have fwho answer for them. i tell them, i can't answer your question. i just can't. they want to know why. that's what we're asking. i think what he was trying to get to was who is the person responsib responsible. i knew every time i walked in the operating room who was responsible. me. it wasn't the anesthesiologist, wasn't the scrub nurse, the circulating nurse, it wasn't anybody but me, it wasn't the assistant surgeon. it was me. i can answer that. that's the problem -- i think the chairman has done a very good job of this, of trying to pinpoint who is responsible so we can have some accountability.
i think that's all we're asking. mr. chairman, i appreciate you having this hearing because some of the things you hear and i hear when we go home are claims that people can't -- dr. ruiz was talking about it a minute ago, these folks were waiting for the phone to hear this, because if they get this benefit, it changes how they live. these are elderly veterans, widows, people who lost their husbands. one of the best friends in the world died and his wife is waiting still to see if she has any benefits. these are real people at the end of this electronic record and so forth. i don't know where this happened. this actually is a picture right here that looks worse than my garage. it's hard to believe anything could, but that actually does. that's embarrassing -- if
veterans saw that at home, thought their record would be somewhere in that, they would be livid. i yield back. >> dr. roe, actually that is your garage. i was over there last week and took a picture. >> i know folks at the department don't relish the opportunity to come testify before this committee, but i think dr. roe said it well. the idea is, if you're going to say something, do it. if you're going to do it, do it right. and if you screw up, admit that you made a mistake. not necessarily today. i'm talking about va in general. i believe bob mcdonnell and sloan gibson are outstanding
leaders trying to move the department into the 21st century. it's not going to be cheap, not going to be easy. the new buzzword is flexibility. the problem is there's been so much misspending of dollars, inappropriately appropriated dollars that this congress is going to be very hard to move in a direction that allows the department flexibility because of mistakes that have been made, misbudgeting that's been done, lack of accountability. again, we're asking one simple question on the contractor, has anybody been held -- a contract is written down and signed for a specific reason, and that reason is to hold somebody accountable. the same thing with the employees at the department. yes, we may want to see a little more movement in some instances, but any movement is better than
no movement. yes, mr. takano is absolutely correct, and i appreciate dr. roe bringing it to our attention that health medical records and electronic records have been a thing of the more recent future, and we're trying get there. it's very difficult when we have a finite amount of money that we're allowed to budget and provide to the agency, and i don't believe anybody at the department of veterans affairs can quarrel with the money given to the department over the last decade. a tremendous amount of money, i mean in the 70 percentile increases, huge dollars. i appreciate you coming and testifying. i appreciate your knowledge in the areas in which you're working in, and i appreciate right down to the person that
may be a line clerical worker making the difference, but i hope you understand, as we sit here and argue what the backlog is, i think dr. ruiz said it right, the end outcome is the most important thing to the veteran. while the media may focus on the backlog dropping, if that veteran hasn't gotten their benefits that they think they've earned, they're still backlogged. so to watch this process evolve, we're going to continue the oversight responsibility. we want to be a partner, but when we ask a question, we'd like a direct answer. sometimes that's difficult to get. not necessarily out of the witnesses here today. we talked about the -- i think it was the six areas this morning that the ig had found where there was data
manipulation. you immediately went directly to little rock, so you were ready for the answer to that question. well, interestingly enough, little rock can be blamed on the fast letter which, in fact, did allow data manipulation within the system. but we didn't talk about the other four or five issues in cities. interestingly enough, i had staff go and check, and the department concurred with what the ig had said as it related to the data manipulation in those areas. so i say all that to say this committee desires very much to work with the department, but we are going to continue the oversight responsibility that the constitution requires of us. and as mr. takano has asked before, tell us what you need. sometimes the answer from us is going to be no, but sometimes it's going to be yes.
with that, i would ask all members would have five legislative days to revise or extend their remarks and add extraneous material. with that so ordered. with that, this hearing is adjourned. >> live at 7:00 p.m. on c-span virginia governor terry mcauliffe delivers his state of the commonwealth address to lawmakers in richmond. also at 7:00 p.m.est eastern on c-span2, representative earl ray tomblin's state of the state address in charleston. c-span takes you on the road to the white house and into classroom. this year our student cam documentary contest asks students to tell us what issues they want to hear from the presidential candidates. follow c-span's road to the white house coverage and get all the details about our student
cam contest at c-span.org. next, a hearing on the government's weather satellite programs and how delays in the launch of satellites may potentially hamper accurate forecasting. national oceanic and atmospheric administration and government accountability office officials testify about some of the management challenges facing noaa, transparency issues and the role of the commercial sector in aiding weather forecasting. the subcommittee on the environment and subcommittee on oversight will come to order. without objection, the chair is authorized to declare recesses of the subcommittee at any time. welcome to today's hearing entitled an overview of the nation's weather satellite programs and policies. i'll recognize myself for five minutes for an opening statement
and then to the ranking member as well. we've had a number of hearings about all kinds of issues related to satellites from the current programs of record to commercial satellites. we've heard testimony about jpss and g.o.e.s. already once this year. this is a second opportunity to do so. some of the concerns that i have are the delay of the g.o.e.s. satellite program from march of 2016 to october of 2016. obviously this is a concern for the weather of our country, being able to predict and forecast accurate and timely weather events, critically important infrastructure for the data that feeds our numerical weather models which keep all of our constituents safe. so this is a good hearing. we have heard testimony before
going along with the delay in g.o.e.s., we have an extension of the life expectancy of some of our current programs and we have questions about if that is realistic or not. we have seen now noaa 16 break apart in space over thanksgiving, and that gives a lot of us concern about maybe -- it didn't just break apart on itself. i know some have suggested that, but something had to occur whether it was a malfunction on board the satellite even though it was beyond its lifetime, or it could have been hit by debris. whatever the case is, it broke apart and now is contributing to more orbital debris which is a concern. that being the case, you think about orbital debris, you think about the satellite that also is coming to the end of its useful life and it's not shielded. it wasn't designed for long-term service. it was designed more for testing
and validation. so when you look at the fpp satellite, is it being pelted by debris? is it at risk, and, of course, would that create, you know, a gap as it relates to our polar orbiting satellite programs and the challenges that we've had with jpss to date as well. we'd also like to discuss today noaa's commercial space policy which is a wonderful start to i think great opportunities for the future to provide more resiliency and redundancy, disaggregated and distributed architectures that the commercial industry can provide to augment our numerical weather models with data coming from the private sector and some of the issues that are going on there, and finally the issues with debris mitigation i think are critically important not only to noaa but to national security space and civil space as well and commercial space. so i'm looking forward to this hearing. looking forward to the testimony
of our witnesses, and i'd like to recognize now the ranking member, mr. beyer, for his opening statement. >> thank you, mr. chairman, very much. and thank you chairman bridenstine, chairman loudermilk for holding today's hearing. i'd like to thank and welcome or witnesses this morning. as has been stated by the chairman, the goal of the committee's oversight in this area is simple. it's to ensure that both the joint polar satellite system, jpss, and the geostationary operational environment satellites, g.o.e.s., are technically sound and operationally robust when they're completed which we all hope is as soon as possible. satellites have a critical role in weather forecasting, losing coverage of either system could have serious, perhaps catastrophic, effects on public safety. unfortunately, noaa's development of both of these satellites has had long and rocky path. they've been plagued by cost growth, pour scheduling, technical issues and management challenges. during the subcommittee's hearing on these projects in february, it seemed jpss was the more troubled of the two, but
now it looks like g.o.e.s.-r has been delayed by more than six months until the october 2016 launch date which may still be at risk. these ongoing delays on these programs increase the cost of the satellites, distort noaa's budget and limit the agency's resources for weather forecasting and important research into weather, oceans, and climate science. we know the satellite acquisition is no easy task and these problems are not unique to noaa. they routinely occur in the development of satellite programs by the department of defense, u.s. intelligence community, nasa, but this is an excuse and i believe noaa recognizes this is an unsustainable model and going forward the agency will need to find a more efficient and more reliable means of putting its instruments into orbit. shifting back to the work conducted by mr. powner and his team at gao, it's my understanding since 2012 they have issued 23 recommendations to noaa that they believe will strengthen the agency's acquisition efforts and improve their contingency planning, but to date just six of these recommendations have been implemented.
i'm interested in learning more about the remaining recommendations and noaa's progress in addressing them. additionally, i think it's important for congress and this committee to have a clear understanding of noaa's policies and planning as it relates to these critical satellites. noaa's decision to change the expected lifespan of the weather satellites needs to be transparent and clearly documented. noaa satellites also provide the data necessary for our weather models and the critical forecasting and warning products and services provided by the national weather service. in fact, the capabilities of the national weather service are directly dependent on the quality and the success of our satellite programs as well as a highly skilled workforce. so while it's not the focus of today's hearing, i want to mention some important work gao is conducting of behalf of my colleagues, mrs. bone meech chi, mr. pa sin ski and me. specifically we've been concerned about the number of
vacancy that is currently exist if the national weather service field offices and we've asked gao to review present and future staffing levels in order to support the agency's efforts to evolvew its operational components and increase its support services. ensuring an adequate workforce is central to achieving noaa's public safety mission. we can't afford a weather satellite gap and it's essential noaa keep that's programs on track. i know these are technically difficult and critically important issues noaa needs to address. thank you mr. chairman and mr. chairman. i look forward to today's hearing. >> thank the ranking member for his opening statement. i would like to recognize the chairman of the oversight committee, mr. loudermilk from georgia. >> thank you, mr. chairman. good morning to our witnesses and thank you for being here. mr. chairman, thank you for holding this hearing. today we'll be hearing from gao and noaa regarding the polar orbiting and geostationary satellite programs. the jpss and g.o.e.s.-r program have experienced setbacks. we intend to learn what has changed since our last hearing in february. earlier this year gao published
a report detailing its concerns that the noaa polar satellite program is facing an unprecedented gap in satellite data. gao believes while jpss remains within its new life cycle cost estimates and scheduled baselines, recent rises in component costs and technical issues during development increase the likelihood of a near-term data gap. additionally, although noaa has reduced its estimated potential gap from 15 to only 3 months, gao noted that this assessment was based on incomplete data and does not account for the risk posed by space debris to satellite hardware. this is even more concerning given that the recent breakup of a retired noaa satellite in orbit. gao estimated that in its report that a data gap may occur earlier. more troubling is the potential data gap facing noaa's g.o.e.s.-r program.
the gio stationary satellite system. since its inception the g.o.e.s.-r program has undergone significant increases in cost and reductions in scope and as gao's report indicates, noaa has yet to reverse or even halt this trend as we have seen with the most recent delay to the launch pushing a march 2016 launch date back to october 2016. this means we could be facing a long period without a backup satellite in orbit. history has shown us that backups are sometimes necessary to reduce risk to public safety and the economy. in 2008 and 2012 the agency was forced to use backup satellites to cover problems with operational satellites, a solution we may once again find ourselves needing. when talking about consequences in the thought of extreme weather on the ground. however, professional and personal experience shows me allows me to discuss the impact of gap weather data on aviation weather. as a private pilot i know the importance of having accurate and timely weather forecasts to
assess flying conditions. pilots require accurate weather data to evaluate conditions on the ground and in the sky throughout the entire flight process from takeoff to landing. without accurate data a pilot runs risk of what we call getting behind the plane. a general aviation phrase which means the plane is responding to the conditions and the pilot is responding to the plane. a situation that spells trouble for even the most seasoned pilots. experience as a pilot does not exempt someone from getting behind the plane as weather deteriorates. as i have conducted many search and rescue missions over the years, even led some of those, and without exception every missing aircraft that we ended up finding as a result of weather resulted in a fatality. we were basically taking remains home to the family so they could be comforted they were found.
your experience doesn't matter. even the most experienced aviators, when they get in a weather situation, it can spell disaster. one of those being scott crossfield, a pioneer in aviation in america. he was the second to break the sound barrier. we conducted a search and rescue mission to find the remains of his plane as it broke up in a thunderstorm over northeast georgia. my personal experience as well, once flying to florida, i was -- had accurate satellite weather data in the cockpit with me which showed thunderstorms coming off the gulf of mexico. i was able to accurately determine not only that i should be able to beat the thunderstorm into my destination but also alternate airports to my west that were clear and available. without that, i could have ended up in a very difficult situation or not made it to my destination. as i was flying in, i also heard of other pilots who didn't have that information with mayday calls being into the weather.
with our reliance on gps weather data, mr. chairman, i'm afraid that without accurate weather these incidents would be more frequent. from this perspective you can see how a gap in weather data and consequently less accurate forecasts could negatively affect not only commercial flight safety but also the $1.5 trillion in total economic activity that the aviation industry contributes to the national economy. i hope that today's hearing will shed some light on the complex schedule and cost demands facing noaa's weather satellite programs and that the subcommittees will walk away with -- better equipped to consider these issues moving forward. mr. chairman, i know as an aviator yourself you understand this as well and i yield back the balance of my time. >> i'd like to thank chairman loudermilk for his comments. certainly i have been in those situations myself, and i appreciate your testimony on them. let me introduce our witnesses. our first witness today is dr. stephen volz, assistant administrator of national environmental satellite data and
information services at noaa. dr. volz has a ph.d. in experimental condensed matter physics from the university of illinois, champaign. at bachelor in physics from illinois and the university of virgini our second witness is mr. david powner, director of information technology management issues at the gao. mr. powner received his bachelor's degree in business administration from the university of denver and attended the senior executive fellows program at harvard. in order to allow time for discussion, please limit your testimony to five minutes. your entire written statement will be made a part of the record, and we on this committee have mostly probably already read it. i now recognize dr. volz for five minutes to present his testimony. >> good morning, chairman, ranking member beyer, and members of the subcommittees. thank you for the invitation to participate in today's hearing and discuss the status of noaa's
satellite programs. as many of you have mentioned noaa provides environmental intelligence in a global way that is timely, accurate, actionable, and reliable. space-based information to citizens, communities, and businesses as they need to stay safe and to operate efficiently. the noaa satellite portfolio provides continuous satellite data that are integral to weather forecasting and noaa working with nasa conducts essential satellite development to ensure continuity of this critical service. our current satellites provide on a 24/7 basis the space based weather data required to support noaa's national weather service as well as the private weather industry and many other users who rely on those services as well. the geostationary satellites currently in orbit g.o.e.s. east and g.o.e.s. west to provide constant monitoring from the atlantic ocean, the continental united states, hawaii, the pacific ocean for weather and are backed up by a fully functioning spare satellite
situated in between them ready to provide backup in the event of a significant satellite anomaly to either of the others. we're working to an october 2016 launch for the next generation launch. while we are working diligently towards this date, there are risks ahead of us to get this launched on time. noaa and nasa are working with contractors to identify and mitigate risks applying all appropriate resources and expertise to meet this important launch milestone. to that end, we are monitoring the health of our current on orbit assets to ensure we maximize their operational utility until the g.o.e.s.-r series satellites are launched, checked out, and placed into operations. meanwhile, while that is going on with the flight hardware, the ground system for g.o.e.s.-r and the user community continue to prepare for the launch and rapid exploitation of the new data
stream once it begins. from the polar orbiting satellites, the first satellite of the jpss program is performing exceptionally as noaa's primary afternoon polar satellite. four years into its operating mission, the high resolution sounders are continuously providing essential observations feeding the national weather service's numerical weather prediction models and ultimately the weather forecasts we all depend on. the imagery has brought much improved imagery of sea ice. weather observations from polar orbiting satellites are particularly important in alaska and the polar region where is geostationary satellites cannot effectively observe. no later than in march 2016 the second satellite of the gpss program, jpss 1, will be launched providing global coverage. jpss 2 continues in development, managed expertly by a nasa and noaa team, and is proceeding on
schedule for a late '21 launch as well. noaa's observing system includes beyond these two systems the jason 2 and discovery satellites and soon will include jason 3, a cosmic two and hopefully the cooperative research search and rescue mission. these smaller and more focused missions provide essential environmental observations augmenting and complementing the polar and geostationary platforms. in all of these systems, noaa draws extensively on the expertise of academia and private industry, relies heavily on productive partnerships with other u.s. agencies including specifically the u.s. air force and nasa, and on international agencies and the national space organization of taiwan to meet our observing needs. we also are expanding our approach to access to space through the commercially hosted payload approach to find more efficient method of access to space. in closing, since joining noaa just over a year ago, i have continued to work the work
started by my predecessors to are build the robustness. our current satellites are aging but are generally healthy as they continue to provide the observations enabling noaa's weather and environmental monitoring mission. we are making steady progress to launch the next generation of polar and geostationary satellites in the coming year to continue and improve the reliability and quality of these earth observations. noaa works closely with nasa our acquisition agent and with our industry and academic partners to implement proven development processes so we can meet our critical mission milestones. decisions are continuously made by individuals, governments, and businesses based on the weather forecasts. space-based observations are vital to the ability of congressional weather providers to deliver those forecasts and noaa values the long-standing interest of the committee in our satellite programs and we appreciate the congressional support to ensure these critical national weather programs achieve a robust state that is needed to supported nation's weather center price. thank you and i look forward to the conversation.
>> thank you for your testimony, dr. volz. you were right on the five-minute mark which is what we expect from our noaa and former nasa folks. so thank you for that. mr. powner, you are recognized for five minutes. >> chairmen bridenstine, loudermilk, ranking member beyer, and members of the subcommittee, earlier this year we testified on the g.o.e.s. and jpss satellite acquisitions. at that time we expressed concern about the g.o.e.s. march date and potential gaps in satellite coverage. the g.o.e.s. launch date has been delayed again. i will provide updates on both acquisitions by displaying three graphics which highlight key launch dates, many of which have been recently extended. on first graphic it displays the three g.o.e.s. satellites currently in space. first bar is g.o.e.s. 13 which covers the eastern half of the united states, the third bar is
g.o.e.s. 15, which covers the western half. the middle bar is g.o.e.s. 14 which is your on orbit spare. noaa's policy is to have an on orbit spare if something goes wrong with one of the operational satellites. the red bars represent an extension to the lifespan of the operational satellites from the last time we testified. when asked what this was based on, we were given a 2005 document supporting the lifespan extension. so a key question is why noaa did not disclose this lifespan extension sooner. i'll add that in noaa's 2016 budget submission, these red extensions were not included on their fly out charts. this is an area where noaa needs to be more open and transparent with the congress, especially since longer life spans effect the timing of future launches and the annual funding of these satellites as i will get into on the next chart. before we leave this chart, i'd like to comment on there have been problems with g.o.e.s. 13
that have been mentioned and the backup has been moved into operation several times. also currently a key sensor on g.o.e.s. 13 has not been working since november 20th. moving to the next chart, what this next chart does, first three bars are basically just replicate what you just saw with the extended lifespan. the fourth bar represents g.o.e.s.-r and the delay in the launch to october 2016. i have three comments on this chart. first, the g.o.e.s.-r bar, the fourth bar down, the delay occurred due to technical problems in about two years of extremely poor schedule performance. the program was losing about ten days per month for a 24-month period. mr. chairman, in our opinion, noaa should have more clearly disclosed the poor scheduled performance to this committee. my second point is the potential gap in backup coverage. the gold vertical bar here represents this projected gap. g.o.e.s. 13, even with the life span expansion, reaches the end
of its useful life about mid-2016, and '14 and '15 are your operational satellites. so there is no backup in orbit from mid-2016 until g.o.e.s.-r launches and performs a six-month checkup through until march or april of 2017. and if the g.o.e.s. october 2016 launch date is not met, this gap in backup coverage becomes even greater. my third and final point on this chart is the final two bars, g.o.e.s. "s" and "t." we agree both g.o.e.s. and jpss need robust constellations to ensure continuity of coverage, and this is exactly why we placed poe testimony gaps and weather satellites on the gao's high risk list in january 2013. but extending these lifespans requires a relook at the timing about your satellites. with the third chart i'd like to move the discussion from g.o.e.s. to jpss, the polar satellites. as you can see here, the red
arrow represents a four-year lifespan extension on npp, the current operational polar satellite in the afternoon orbit. we question whether this should extend to 2020, given noaa's latest analysis supporting this. however, the good news here with jpss is there is an annual review that is used to update the polar satellite lifespans, unlike the g.o.e.s. programs. regarding the j-1 launch, the middle bar here of march 2017, we are more concerned about this date than we have been prior. key reasons are continued delays in the delivery of the key instrument, atms, continued delays in the ground system, and continued problems with the component on the spacecraft. and finally on the chart, we think there is increased risk with j-2 since we have a new spacecraft contractor. on g.o.e.s. the story was that the performance will greatly improve with the delivery of the
second g.o.e.s. because there was a fair amount of learning with the first. it seems odd that that same logic wouldn't be applied to the second jpss satellite. in conclusion, noaa needs to be more transparent on risks and satellite lifespans, there needs to be a consistent policy to evaluate satellite life spans, a we still have major concerns with the backup, the gap in the backup for g.o.e.s.-r, and also between npp and jpss-1. but after g.o.e.s.-r and jpps-1 launch, given noaa's recent extensions, we're really not concerned about gaps after that point. in fact, congress might have opportunities to reduce annual expenditures on these programs in upcoming years. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, mr. powner, for your testimony. i recognize myself for five minutes for questions. i just wanted to go back to dr. volz. the commercial space policy i think is a great starting point.
i think there's more information that needs to be forthcoming on how to actually interact with noaa on the commercial capabilities that are out there right now. one of my questions is, right now when it comes to gps radio occultation, we already have one company with satellites in space that are being tested and validated through ucar, and we have other companies that are going to be launching next year numerous satellites into space. we heard testimony from you and it's in your written testimony as well about the cosmic program. when we think about commercial applications and we think about the 2010 space policy, commercial space policy, would it not be appropriate to take advantage of these commercial opportunities rather than continue to develop cosmic for however many millions of dollars that that's going to take?
>> so, related to the value -- the capabilities of the oncoming commercial capability, you mentioned we do have assets now in space. spire is one organization that has launched some satellites and there are several others likely to launch in the near term. and from the noaa perspective we're very interested in seeing the performance of these satellites demonstrated on orbit. the cosmic program that was launched first in 2006 and has been flying for many years providing radio occultation to noaa and integrated into our numerical weather modeling is a proven and demonstrated performance capability that we have been taking advantage of. the cosmic 2 is an extension of that and we expect when launch occurs in about a year to add that, those observations, into our data system. the value, the potential value, of these new commercial ventures are very high, but it's still potential, and i see we should be engaged with them. we should be watching and observing and analyzing the data that comes from them once we develop the appropriate interaction engagement
mechanism. it should be compared against some standard, some measurement capability that we have as well with cosmic already. i think both hand is the approach i would take in because it continues necessary measurement and it will provide an excellent benchmark and comparison for these alternative approaches which use the same method, same measurement technique, but different implementation. validating those on-orbit activities and observations will be key as we go forward and i look forward to the opportunity to do that. >> your boss manson brown last month in d.c. at a business roundtable mentioned he supports a line item in the president's budget request for a tech demonstration of commercial satellite weather data. do you also support a line item for commercial satellite weather data? >> i support my boss, which is a good start. i do support the principle that we do need a focused effort to
demonstrate the capability of these operations. so yes, i would support that. we've been working with noaa, with the commercial policy that went out and is now being reviewed for updates. on the nesda side as we do implementation, we've been working on an engagement process for how we would work with industry, work with potential vendors, to provide data, to secure data, to evaluate the data when it comes in, decide whether it's capable of support the long term operational contract or contractual mechanism. we had a workshop this monday which was well attended by all of the -- at least three of the radio occultation providers to talk about how we can have a productive interaction and how we can have a relationship going forward to support exactly that, which would be a demonstration project which could lead to a sustained operational delivery of data. >> the line item manson brown talked about, any idea what that dollar amount would be that's going to be in the president's budget request? >> i would be speaking from one half of the equation if i knew.
i know what it takes for me to develop a satellite, to develop and process the data. what it would take for us to evaluate and process the data. as far as what the commercial side would need as investment or procurement is the part we have to explore. i'm not sure what would be the appropriate price point for our vendors to make their business models close because obviously that's a very proprietary element. it's an engagement we need to have to get a better feel for that. >> i would encourage you to engage with those vendors. the great thing for the taxpayer and for the people on this committee is that those commercial vendors are launching into space right now with clients that aren't necessarily noaa and that gives us an opportunity to share the costs so that it's not just the u.s. government taking on the burden but also transportation companies, agricultural companies, insurance companies,
et cetera, that are interested in this kind of data. so the price point may be a lot less than what we anticipate. and the idea that they're making the business case without the government involved is positive as well. which only makes it that much more interesting for us to be willing to reach out and purchase that data. i am out of time. i recognize the ranking member, mr. beyer, for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman, very much. dr. volz, i have a culture question for you and it's not a hostile question. just to warn you up front. mr. powner talked about "extremely poor schedule performance" on one aspect of this. i read all rick atkinson's trilogy on the war in europe, world war ii, and eisenhower again and again gave impossible time lines to his generals for invasions of north africa, sicily, italy, and normandy. you read walter isaacson's book on steve jobs, jobs again and again gave his team impossible tasks. so the question is, does noaa search, do people work nights
and weekends, is there a sense of urgency about these things, and how is that urgency modeled by the leadership? or is it business as usual, people come in at 9:00 monday morning and go home at 5:00 on friday afternoon? >> so to -- starting with the ending of what you just stated, i've not seen a more dedicated team working on any program than i've seen on g.o.e.s. and jpss. that's independent of whether they're nasa, noaa, lockheed martin, or any of our vendors. there's no sense of casual execution of the program. there's a strong dedication of the mission and the time and effort they put into it, well beyond what i could ever expect to tell them to do. so your observation related to, is it a culture of setting unrealistic deadlines and
expectations? we're very sensitive -- i'm very sensitive to that. if you set a schedule which is unachievable from day one, nobody treats it seriously. if i'm already behind the eight-ball, it doesn't matter if i work extra or not. it has a negative impact i think on performance. on g.o.e.s.-r, when we set up the program some time ago, we have standard methodologies within nasa and noaa about cost confidence and schedule confidence and probability of success. it's called a joint confidence level, jcl for cost and schedule. there's usually an acceptance that you budget to a 70% confidence which means 7 of 10 missions will meet or exceed that, and 3 out of 10 will need more time or more money or both. so when we went -- that's sort of the baseline approach. assuming that you will perform to that. on g.o.e.s. we chose a more -- sometimes you choose a more aggressive schedule for a
planetary mission because off tight window for launch. we chose to proceed from confirmation to first delivery on a 50% thereabouts confidence schedule. knowing it was aggressive but not unachievable because we understood the criticality of getting this measurement on orbit. because we thought we would challenge ourselves and track our performance against that. we never sacrificed the performance during that process. we didn't skip tests we thought were important or necessary in order to achieve that. we tracked then a reserve depletion over time. the negative performance two years, mid '13 to mid '15 were strong, we were not meeting our schedule. but we were still meeting the earliest schedule we could achieve. >> let me fit in one more question in here, dr. volz. mr. powner -- the georgia made 11 recommendations regarding jpss and noaa has only implemented two of them. and 12 recommendations regarding g.o.e.s.-r and noaa's implemented four of those. can you explain the gap between the recommendations made by gao and the ability to respond to them. >> a lot of the recommendations are addressing the gap. i think a lot of them are in flight. they're not fully wrapped up yet. so we want to see more of that done to address a lot of the gaps. i think the issue with this,
with this poor schedule performance, whether it's achievable or not, i think we need to be more open with our risks. so when we were here in february talking about missed milestones on the g.o.e.s. program, we didn't think they were going to hit that launch date of march 2016, and noaa had data saying that we had poor schedule performance for two years, our point is that you need to be open with your risks in order to hit your dates. when you're open with your risks -- and i know this committee has been very supportive of noaa to ensure that these satellites get up there on time. we need to collectively work on these risks and be open with them so we can all collectively address the issues that are at hand. >> thank you. very quickly, dr. volz, on the life plan extension, mr. powner talked about noaa should have disclosed that sooner, that data has been around since 2005. it almost, if i were a skeptical person, i'd think we'd extended sure we don't look like there's a gap. can you explain?
>> the particular study mr. powner mentioned was a study expect the instruments to last longer than the contractual lifetime. but that's only a piece of the puzzle that we use when we calculate and we estimate the projected future life of a mission. one of the other pieces which really required the expenditure of time was with the g.o.e.s.-nop is to see how those satellites operate on orbit. this was the first flight of the boeing 601 bus in a geostationary operation like we had for g.o.e.s.-nop. we need to see when we have a new satellite time on orbit to see how it's going to operate, what its performance is going to be, are we going to see life-limiting features start to develop. it took many years of watching those satellites to operate from '06, '08, '09 when they were launched to develop a confidence in the family of satellite buses so we could then say, now i'm comfortable saying the projection life will be longer than it is. that's where we came to about this time last year. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> i'll recognize the gentleman from georgia, the chairman of
the oversight committee, mr. loudermilk, for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to continue on with the line of questioning that my good friend, mr. beyer, brought up. mr. powner, you brought up the slides and the charts indicating the lifecycle, the launch dates, and now we're extending the lifespan and the useful life of the -- both satellite programs. it's been extended by three years. and dr. volz, you just mentioned that there was other data that was considered beyond just the 2005 documents that was provided to this committee. one question, why was only the 2005 document provided to this committee when we requested data to back up why you're extending the lifespan of these satellites? >> actually, sir, in the submission in response to the
letter we received, we submitted that study. but also in analysis of explanation of how we did use the on-orbit performance validation of these instruments over time and the satellites over time as one of the rationales for extension. also what we also provide on a regular basis is monthly status reports in all of our satellites, we provide a couple of examples of the statusing of every subsystem in the spacecraft we do on a routine basis. while we haven't provided that, and that's a good point mr. powner made, we haven't provided a regular routine mechanism for what the general health is of all our satellites. one of the observations i had to my team is we should be doing that on an annual basis at least providing an update of the health of our constellation