Dec 9, 2022 - Technology

VA official hopes laid-off tech workers will take on a new mission

Illustration of a pair of dog tags with binary on them.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is hoping that the recent wave of tech layoffs could help it fill around 1,000 open positions in areas ranging from cybersecurity to software development.

Why it matters: The VA serves over 9 million veterans in more than 2,000 locations, but its digital transformation efforts have been hampered by tech talent shortages.

  • One example relates to the PACT Act, recently passed to improve health care for veterans who were exposed to toxic substances like Agent Orange in Vietnam or open burn pits in Iraq.
  • The VA is trying to better streamline management of these new benefits by accelerating its migration to the cloud.

What they're saying: "We're the largest integrated health care and financial services infrastructure organization in the country," explains VA chief information officer and assistant secretary for information and tech Kurt DelBene, who spent most of his career at Microsoft. "We also have around a thousand systems that need modernization."

  • DelBene hopes that other technologists will follow his move from the private to public sector, at least while industry is in a payroll downturn. "No one needs to be making a decision for the rest of their life," he says.

Behind the scenes: To further his effort, DelBene is pushing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to approve a special salary rate that he believes could close the wage gap by around 60%.

  • It's a proposal that would be available to all government agencies, but DelBene says the VA is committing to use it and accept the budget implications.

The bottom line: Silicon Valley's loss could be veterans' gain.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct job title for Kurt DelBene as chief information officer and assistant secretary for information and technology

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