Last updated: June 11. 2014 9:25AM - 107 Views
Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

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Fresh off of the failure of the joint Department of Defense/Department of Veterans’ Affairs electronic health record program, the Pentagon is preparing an $11 billion contract to overhaul its own electronic health records. This would be the biggest federal IT job since last fall’s HealthCare.gov rollout.

Many outside observers are concerned that this could become another failed effort The Chief Information Officer at the Office of Management and Budget has warned that a giant problem-solving contract to a single vendor for several years is a common “boondogglish characteristic” of IT procurement that typically ends in failure, Politico.com reported.

People familiar with the defense contract stressed the industry’s readiness to take it on. HealthCare.gov was a unique project bedeviled by a complex mixture of political strife, balkanized vendors, a short time frame and a customized, first-of-its-kind tech system, they said.

Andy Maner, managing partner of IBM U.S. Federal, plans to bid on the contract and to put its Watson supercomputer to use solving health care problems for the DOD project. The Pentagon hopes to issue the contract by early summer 2015, rolling out the health records system region by region in 2016 with a goal to finish by 2023.

The Defense Commissary Agency is facing a lot of challenges as Defense Department budget-cutters seek to decrease the system’s taxpayer funding. But the stores are still there, providing a benefit to troops and families. And, according to intel gathered at a recent commissary conference, DeCA officials are plugging ahead, trying to provide even more value for their patrons’ shopping dollar, and testing out new concepts to make shopping easier.

For example:

• Case lot sales are back. These popular sales, often with bulk items under tents in commissary parking lots, were halted last year for budget reasons. But they’ll start up again in late summer, around mid-August through September. The timing of these weekend sales varies by store.

In the past, stores have offered a variety of items, such as club packs, that helped boost savings beyond the regular average commissary savings of about 30 percent. The stores will have to stay within their budgets to operate the sales, and some of DeCA’s industry partners have agreed to provide more support to reduce the costs. When dates are set, they will be posted on the DeCA website, http://www.commissaries.com .

• National Guard and Reserve on-site sales have restarted. Commissary officials expect to host at least 52 events at locations around the country, bringing commissary sales to Guard and Reserve personnel who live far from military installations and commissaries.

Although these sales are targeted to those troops, they’re open to any authorized commissary shopper. The sales initially were halted last year because of the travel restrictions imposed by DoD, and then later because of budget pressures. Each event is scrutinized for cost and return on investment, according to DeCA spokesman Kevin Robinson. Check out sales scheduled through June at www.commissaries.com, then click “Shopping,” then “Guard/Reserve On-Site Sales” at the left.

• “Club store” formats are being tested at two stores, with increased sales of bulk items. At the Imperial Beach, California, commissary, which opened a “hybrid” club pack format in October, sales of club packs have increased by 169 percent. At the commissary at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, the “club store within the store” concept has increased sales of club packs by 80 percent since it opened in March.

• Online ordering test at three stores continues, with an evaluation of the future of the program after June 30. In DeCA’s “Click2Go” pilot program, 5,994 customers have ordered online from one of three stores for curbside pickup since the program was launched in 2013: Fort Lee, Virginia; Travis Air Force Base, California; and Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The goal is convenience, allowing shoppers to order online, then just pick up their groceries curbside at the store. After June, officials will analyze the results to determine if this eCommerce grocery program should be expanded to other stores.

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