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Capt. Joel Roos (center), commanding officer, Naval Medical Center San Diego, speaks with Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Blackburn (far left) on June 15, 2017.

Capt. Joel Roos (center), commanding officer, Naval Medical Center San Diego, speaks with Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Scott Blackburn (far left) on June 15, 2017. (Cameron Pinske/U.S. Navy)

WASHINGTON — The chief information officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs resigned Tuesday, prompting questions about what will happen with the agency’s planned modernization efforts.

Scott Blackburn, the VA’s acting chief information officer, posted a farewell letter on Twitter on Tuesday morning. VA Spokesman Curt Cashour confirmed Blackburn resigned from the agency, effective Tuesday.

“We thank Scott for his service and wish him the best of luck in the future,” Cashour wrote in an email.

The VA has not yet named Blackburn’s replacement.

Blackburn tweeted it was a “bittersweet moment” and described working at the VA as “the honor of my life.”

“My effort has always been about better caring for veterans regardless of presidential administration, Republican or Democrat – and I have been honored to serve alongside both in a bipartisan way,” Blackburn wrote in his resignation letter. “I wish the very best for those in VA who are dedicated to caring for veterans, and I will pray every day for their success.”

Former VA Secretary Bob McDonald recruited Blackburn, an Army veteran, to the VA in 2014. He previously worked as a partner at a management consulting firm that specialized in transforming the culture of Fortune 500 companies.

For years, Blackburn led McDonald’s transformation initiative, MyVA.

Under former VA Secretary David Shulkin, Blackburn served as the VA interim deputy secretary and then took over as acting chief information officer.

The VA’s information technology systems have been beset with challenges. Last year, the Government Accountability Office labeled the agency’s IT as “high risk” and in need of congressional oversight. The GAO said the VA was spending billions of dollars on old and inefficient systems.

Last summer, Shulkin announced the VA would enter into a multibillion-dollar contract with Cerner Corporation to overhaul its electronic health record system and build one capable of sharing data seamlessly with the Defense Department.

Shulkin was working through contract negotiations when he was fired March 28. Blackburn’s exit creates more questions about the effort.

In response to a question about it Tuesday, Cashour said the VA “doesn’t typically comment on ongoing contract negotiations.”

Blackburn’s resignation also leaves another gap in the VA’s leadership team.

Robert Wilkie, the Defense Department undersecretary of personnel and readiness, is serving as acting VA secretary while President Donald Trump’s nominee for the job, Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, awaits a Senate confirmation hearing April 25.

The VA also has vacancies in the positions of undersecretary of health and undersecretary of benefits.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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