Department of Veterans Affairs commits to restoring data and a new open government plan

The exterior of a VA medical center.
A VA medical center in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo credit: Veterans Health/Flickr)

At the end of September, Sunlight reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) needed a new open government plan after failing to produce one since 2010, and had stopped publishing performance data.

After directly engaging with the agency and seeing our analysis amplified by media outlets, we’re glad to share today that the VA has acknowledged the issues we raised and has committed to addressing our concerns.

“Though VA has widely embraced the guidelines’ spirit of transparency, it has not updated the Plan every two years as required,” said Victoria Glynn, deputy press secretary at the VA. “The VA plans to remedy this immediately by producing a new self-assessment, progress report, and next steps by mid-December 2016.”

We look forward to reading and evaluating all three of these components, which the U.S. chief information officer and U.S. chief technology officer required in the White House guidance issued in July. We’re glad to see that the VA will join other Cabinet agencies in complying with President Obama’s Open Government Directive and hope that their self-assessment and progress report will be accurate, honest and reflective of the department’s record over the past six years, along with the concrete steps it will take to make the services and staff that support veterans and their caregivers more open and accountable to the public.

That plan and the agency’s commitments will include disclosing data about how well VA services are working, where and when. On that count, Sunlight called for the VA’s Hospital Compare website to go back online and the data on it to be restored to the Center of Medicare and Medicare Services (CMS) Hospital Compare website. If the public searches for any VA hospital, we can all see missing performance data.

In its statement to Sunlight, the VA disputed our characterization of the hospital data as missing and highlighted ongoing data releases. While the agency acknowledged ongoing issues regarding publishing VA data to the CMS website, it highlighted that they have continued to post the results of inpatient and outpatient quality measures at

“As a truly accountable and transparent organization, VA generates and releases a great deal of data,” said Glynn. “For example, every two weeks, we release a large set of health care data related to patients’ access to care, including wait times. The most recent was October 13. On the healthcare data you were looking for: to put the bottom line up front, we have been releasing all of the data you’re looking for, just in a different place than perhaps you expected.”

The VA told us that after it finishes “working through legal and technical details,” however, it will once again begin publishing data about hospital quality performance to the HHS starting on Oct. 19.

The agency also highlighted other datasets, including comparisons between VA and the private sector for outpatient care and information about how individual VA facilities perform, and welcomed public feedback on these datasets.

“We are committed to full transparency about all dimensions of VA performance, and believe Americans should know how VA health care performs compared with private sector health care organizations,” said Glynn. “Our ultimate goal is that all Veterans receive timely, safe, high-quality care wherever and whenever they seek our assistance.”

Acknowledging problems with transparency and disclosure is crucial to start making improvements. We commend the VA for responding to our analysis with substantive feedback and look forward to accountability for following through on these commitments.