Federal e-gov initiatives to benefit state, local health care programs

Federal e-gov initiatives to benefit state, local health care programs

'Public records have often been neglected in terms of automation and modernization,' said Carl Wilson, director of Washington, D.C.'s State Center for Health Statistics and Vital Records Registrar.

Integrated systems would streamline birth and death records, and provide messaging software

If the Social Security Administration's vital statistics reporting and searching pilot programs are any indication of what is to come, state and local governments can expect significant help from Uncle Sam over the next two years in improving electronic information sharing.

When the Office of Management and Budget, under its Quicksilver process, selected 23 e-government initiatives to be eligible for special funding, five fell into the government-to-government category. They are:

  • Social Security's e-Vital

  • Health and Human Services' e-Grants

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster assistance and crisis response

  • Interior Department's one-stop geospatial information

  • Justice Department's wireless networks.

    President Bush asked Congress for $20 million for start-up funding for the initiatives, and the appropriations conference report passed by both houses provided $5 million for them via OMB. Officials said more funds could come from OMB's $100 million e-gov purse or from savings from ending duplicate agency efforts.

    OMB started with 300 agency-submitted projects and selected 23, which officials hope will unify and simplify federal systems.

    Although the Sept. 11 attacks forced an even closer relationship between state, local and federal agencies, the need for this type of intergovernmental cooperation was already increasing as program requirements have driven greater information sharing among various levels of government.

    Social Security's e-Vital project is an example of the information flow that exists and how increased collaboration likely will make it easier and more efficient. E-Vital incorporates two programs to exchange birth and death statistics across the three levels of government.

    SSA is working with the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) to help gain state buy-in and develop standards.

    The first initiative will let SSA employees search state vital records to validate birth certificates from 1935 and later, and death information when residents or dependents apply for benefits.

    The second program will allow funeral homes, hospitals, nursing homes and medical examiners to send death certificate information to the state level and the state agency to submit the information to the federal level in a matter of days instead of months. The goal is to verify that the person's Social Security number matches their name so benefits can be stopped.

    Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire received the first round of funding to launch the electronic death registration system two months ago.

    'The idea is to leverage these efforts with other efforts to build some better electronic relationships in the vital statistics area so that users can query states for information and receive information,' said Tony Trenkle, SSA's deputy associate commissioner for electronic services.

    'It is an infrastructure that a number of agencies could use,' Trenkle said. 'A lot of it, however, depends on privacy and data sharing considerations.'

    Trenkle co-chaired the government-to-government initiative committee that helped whittle down the agency submissions.

    SSA likely will submit the pilot programs as business case models to OMB, Trenkle said. He added 'it probably will make sense to move forward' with these projects as a part of OMB's initiatives.

    Messaging software

    The vital records query proposal will pilot in six states beginning next month or February and provide SSA with messaging software similar to that used by automated teller machines at banks.

    'SSA will be checking data that already exists on state databases,' said Delton Atkinson, NAPHSIS executive director. 'The software will know which database to search by the information that is entered. The project still is in the planning stages, Atkinson said, but SSA likely will fund much of it.

    'Public records have often been neglected in terms of automation and modernization,' said Carl Wilson, director of Washington, D.C.'s State Center for Health Statistics and Vital Records Registrar. 'Every city, county and state has a vital records office and the automation at all levels of government have fallen behind in large degree due to the lack of funding.'

    Washington received $490,000 from SSA for the project and kicked in another $710,000 for local capital funds to make up the $1.2 million cost of launching the electronic death registration system.

    Atkinson said current plans call for the system to be rolled out nationwide by October 2003.

    NAPHSIS built the component for querying SSA's database to verify names and Social Security numbers. This is a Web application written in Java and using Extensible Markup Language to send messages to and from SSA.

    Paper cuts

    'We wanted this to be a simple system that would work on any state architecture,' Atkinson said. 'We are trying to make it as easy as possible for states to implement this system.'

    Wilson said Washington has been using a paper system that could require up to 37 days to get the information to SSA.

    'We hope to cut the time down to five days,' Wilson said. A request for bids should be out by next month and the project should be finished in less than two years, he said.
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