Bioterrorism, infrastructure needs drive HHS IT budget

Health and Human Services Department IT would rise by 4.8 percent in fiscal 2007 under the White House's budget plan, buoyed in part by bioterrorism spending and IT infrastructure initiatives.

The HHS budget for IT would increase to $5.5 billion, from $5.2 billion, under President Bush's budget proposal, according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget. Much of the IT spending increases are for electronic health records, health IT infrastructures and public health systems.

For example, the National Institutes of Health would spend $257 million on IT infrastructure next year, up from $252 million this year. Other infrastructure accounts include the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, $100 million; Food and Drug Administration, $96 million; and Centers for Disease Control, $75 million.

Bioterrorism-related IT funding would expand by 40 percent under the White House plan, to $132 million in 2007, from $94 million in 2006, according to the market research firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. That includes only programs that explicitly reference bioterrorism in their descriptions.

Nearly all of the budget hikes for bioterrorism appears to be devoted to a single project, the National Health Information Network, according to an analysis of OMB figures about IT spending.

The department is seeking to more than double the network's funding?to $74 million, from $32 million in 2006, which is a $42 million increase. The goal is to develop and test programs for monitoring bioterrorism, emergency response, health care delivery and adverse drug reactions.

Many of HHS' other bioterrorism-related projects would receive stable or slightly declining funding next year.

One example is BioSense, a national syndromic surveillance program, in which the CDC monitors emergency room information, drug sales, doctors' office reports and other data from around the country on a continuous basis. The goal is to watch for blips in fevers, severe coughs and other markers that could provide early warnings of a bioterrorism attack or public health crisis. Its funding would be $47.5 million in 2007, from $49.5 million this year.

Other bioterrorism IT programs with flat budgets include the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, $11.2 million; monitoring or tracking of transfers of disease agents for research, $6.4 million; vaccine ordering, $6.2 million; vaccine availability, $4.7 million; research lab information-sharing, $4.7 million; outbreak management systems, $3.1 million; CDC Secure Data Network, $2.9 million; emergency operations center support, $2.4 million; and Health Alert Network, $500,000.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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