Bush hits familiar IT notes in address

In his sixth State of the Union address, President Bush stuck to his usual technology themes of using IT to improve health care and secure the border.


In many of his previous addresses to Congress, Bush highlighted
the need to use technology as a part of his domestic agenda in
these two areas.


'We need to reduce costs and medical errors with better
information technology,' Bush said, receiving applause from
lawmakers. 'In all we do, we must remember that the best
health care decisions are made not by government and insurance
companies, but by patients and their doctors.'


While using IT to enhance health care has been a constant theme
for the administration, progress has slowed. The Office of the
National Coordinator for Health IT (ONCHIT) has been without a
leader since May when David Brailer resigned.
The Health and Human Services Department recently released a job
notice for a deputy Health IT coordinator as well.


For the last two years, Brailer has set in motion health IT
efforts that individually and in tandem will let physicians,
hospitals, insurers and pharmacists exchange patient data to
transform the quality of medical care. But without a national
coordinator, federal momentum has been sluggish.


Still, HHS over the next year will pursue contracts for trial
implementations that will include state and regional health
information organization exchange efforts to advance capabilities
for the Nationwide Health Information Network.


ONCHIT has focused on developing standards, funding private
sector work on health architecture and providing grants to states
to set up the regional networks.


The other IT component in Bush's speech dealt with
securing the country's borders. The president said that
without strong protection at the border, the country is in danger.
And to improve the security of the country, the administration
plans to double 'the size of the Border Patrol' and
fund 'new infrastructure and technology.'


Bush was referring to the Homeland Security Department's
more than $7 billion Secure Border Initiative-Net program, as well
as the $10 billion U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator
Technology (U.S. Visit) program.


SBI-Net, which DHS awarded earlier this year to Boeing Co., will
use an assortment of technologies to improve how Border Patrol agents fulfill
their mission. SBI-Net recently came under scrutiny for several
risks built into the contract and management structure.


Through U.S. Visit, DHS will track visitors entering the country
under a 10-year contract with Accenture Ltd. The program is
supposed to track those who exit as well, but that aspect has been
more challenging. Recently, the Government Accountability Office
said it has concerns over the exit tracking system.


Over the next year, both programs will play a central role in
the administration's plan to improve border security.


Additionally, Bush said he plans to rein in federal spending in
order to balance the budget in three years and eliminate the
deficit in five years. This likely means agency budgets will remain
flat or even decrease when Bush submits his fiscal 2008 budget to
Congress Feb. 6.


'Together, we can restrain the spending appetite of the
federal government, and we can balance the federal budget,'
Bush said.



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