Shawn P. McCarthy | National data standards benefit states, too

Internaut | Commentary: Importance of national data standards extends all the way to state and local agencies

Shawn P. McCarthy

Some interesting trends have evolved in the way state and local governments set their information technology budget priorities ' and those priorities could end up affecting the way the federal government interacts with state and local systems. Moreover, these developments could greatly improve the way data flows among various levels of government.

Many data-structure issues still need to be resolved along the way, and the resolution will not be easy. Yes, there are budding attempts at developing a national enterprise architecture for state governments, but none has seen wide adoption yet. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers' NASCIO Enterprise Architecture program ( is probably the most mature.

Adoption is spotty because state IT funding issues can cause enterprise architecture adjustments to move at a glacial pace. The alternative?

It's increasingly important that states try to at least plug into national data standards for government information as they work to update their systems.
My most recent research indicates that the average state now spends about 21 percent of its IT budget on systems related to social services and public health. Most also spend about 13 percent on courts, justice, jails and police systems. Other big investment categories ' in the 10 percent range ' include transportation systems and motor vehicle registration, and treasury, revenue and financial-management systems.

In many cases, data collected by states for these functional areas must be shared with federal IT systems. For example, state and local social-services offices must file reports on federally mandated initiatives. To help with this, states may want to consider the efforts of the Health and Human Services Department's National Human Services Information Technology Resource Center ( It includes a technical advisory group that helps HHS systems better interact with state systems.

State and local health systems need to interact with federal Medicare and Medicaid systems, and they need to interact with the Public Health Information Network developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States should look to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration for health system grant opportunities '$31.4 million was handed out this year. HHS is providing funds to help develop a model electronic health record for children enrolled in Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Meanwhile, local police departments are being asked to plug into the Global Justice Extensible Markup Language Data Model ( to export records in a way that can be used by other federal and state departments across the country. And the National Information Exchange Model is a collaborative partnership of agencies and organizations across all levels of government ' federal, state, tribal and local ' plus private industry, working to share critical information across justice, public safety, emergency and disaster management groups.

These are just a few examples to show how states should consider tying their spending to systems capable of adopting national data structures and architecture standards. Doing so may even qualify them for grant money and help from federal advisers.

Shawn P. McCarthy is a senior analyst and program manager at IDC Government Insights. E-mail him at smmcarthy

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.

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