Online extra: White House backs joint projects on health care, bioterror detection

IT spending at civilian agencies received only a modest increase in the president's fiscal 2005 budget proposal, but the Bush administration offered significant support to several cross-agency projects.

Sharing technology across agencies to integrate federal processes and improve government efficiency is an administration priority. President Bush requested about $260 million more for civilian IT efforts next year, up to $32.3 billion, compared with $32.1 billion for this year.

Among the cross-cutting initiatives, the Veterans Affairs Department would receive $134 million to work with the Defense Department to develop unified electronic medical records for soldiers and veterans.

VA and DOD, which run the government's largest medical care systems, are developing electronic patient records that doctors can share for seamless health care service during soldiers' terms of active duty and after they leave military service.

'It's the state of the art in medical records management, the best out there'be it private- or public-sector,' VA deputy CIO Ed Meagher said. DOD has begun to provide data to VA, and the departments also plan to test the use of a standardized physical exam.

VA is working to develop medical records, a health data repository and federal health information exchange for soldiers and veterans.

The electronic records management project is the cornerstone around which VA will build other systems, Meagher said. The information sharing will let VA access DOD information to determine eligibility for benefits more quickly. The two would share technology, data, facilities and staffing.

In another joint effort, the Health and Human Services and Agriculture departments would share $370 million to combat bioterrorism through increased surveillance and analysis. HHS also leads an effort among several agencies to develop a federal health architecture, which would receive almost $2 million.

The $370 million HHS and USDA would receive to thwart deliberate acts of contamination and introduction of disease is three times this year's funding. Plus, the administration wants $70 million to establish a nationwide network of laboratories that can rapidly analyze potentially contaminated food and use information systems to share data among labs and government agencies.

'The bioterror funding was the major factor in HHS' IT budget increase,' acting HHS CIO Kathleen Heuer said.

Total spending for biosurveillance would grow to $118 million, with $47 million earmarked for Project BioWatch, a nationwide sensor network throughout the country to detect dangerous biological and chemical agents.

Health, food and agriculture organizations, along with BioWatch, would feed data into an integrated system. The bio-surveillance initiative would provide early indications that an attack has occurred and improve the government's ability to determine an attack's size and scope.

HHS is the lead agency on the federal health architecture with the Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal health architecture would promote government health programs to make information interoperable.

'There's not much dollarwise'less than $2 million'but we're demonstrating leadership on bringing federal partners together to share information,' Heuer said.

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