Senate approves Labor, HHS spending bill

The Senate approved the $145.7 billion spending bill for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies last week.

Members of the House and Senate must reconcile the differences in their respective bills. The House passed its version in June, with $142.5 million in discretionary spending.

Lawmakers allocated $29.8 million for Labor's IT acquisitions, including infrastructure, architecture, equipment and software. The amount is identical to the House version, which praised Labor for streamlining its IT infrastructure into a uniform system.

Labor would also receive $6.2 million for its new core accounting system, including hardware and software infrastructure costs.

For the Health and Human Services Department, the bill provides for a total of $45.1 million for the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, substantially less than the House version's $75 million and president's budget request of $77.8 million. Last year, the health IT office received
just $24 million.

The office is leading the federal effort to promote interoperability standards, product certification and a national health IT network architecture to improve health care and reduce costs. Lawmakers were especially interested in the use of health IT to manage chronic disease care while reducing costs, according to the Senate report.

The Senate earmarked $84 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to determine ways to reduce medical errors, and $50 million for health IT demonstration projects.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would receive $1.6 billion for terrorism preparedness activities, of which $735.4 million would go to upgrading state and local capacity through grants and cooperative agreements and $79.4 million for the Bio-surveillance Initiative.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would assign $24.2 million for continued improvements in Medicare claims processing redesign.

Lawmakers targeted $9.3 billion in Social Security Administration program funding, an increase over the $8.7 billion last year and slightly less than the $9.4 billion the president requested.

Among the programs the funding supports are automated data processing activities and the state disability determination services, which make initial and continuing disability determinations on behalf of Social Security. The agency is completing its rollout of its electronic disability claims processing system.

Social Security will also receive $320 million to support the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug benefit program to identify low-income beneficiaries who may be eligible for financial assistance with their prescription drug costs; to make eligibility determinations for those individuals eligible for financial assistance and to withhold premiums associated with beneficiaries' plans; and to calculate Medicare Part B premiums for high-income beneficiaries.

About the Authors

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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