IT is at forefront of Bush's State of the Union address

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

In many of the five 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, for which he received an 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 recently has slowed. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT has been without a leader since May when Dr. David Brailer resigned. The Health and Human Services Department recently put out 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 coordinator, federal momentum has been sluggish.

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

The Office of the National Coordinator 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 piece in Bush's speech dealt with securing the country's borders. Bush said without strong protection at the border, the country is in danger. And to improve the security of the country, the administration will double "the size of the Border Patrol" 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 program.

SBI-Net, which DHS awarded earlier this year to Boeing Co., will use an assortment of technology to improve how Border Patrol agents protect the border. 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 suppose to track those who exit as well, but that 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 reign 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.

Jason Miller is assistant managing editor of Washington Technology's affiliate publication, Government Computer News.

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