Buzz of the Week

Unintended consequences

The law of unintended consequences describes what happens when an action results in an outcome that is not intended. Undoubtedly, officials at Walter Reed Army Medical Center must feel held captive by that law.

For the past week, The Washington Post has been publishing a remarkable series of stories about what they have called “the other Walter Reed,” detailing problems — some horrifying — at the prestigious medical center. According to the Post, some wounded soldiers have lived amid mice, mold and mismanagement in outpatient facilities.

This story has some information technology implications. Federal Computer Week’s sister publication, Government Health IT, reported last year on the Defense Department’s Deployed Warrior Medical Management Center in Landstuhl, Germany, which is responsible for managing patients from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. That center, using patient tracking and movement technology, enables DOD to coordinate evacuation system that can get a wounded warfighter from the battlefield to a stateside hospital in 48 hours. Those technologies have led to the lowest combat death rate in history.

Of course, the unintended consequence is that those wounded warfighters deserve treatment, and the Post story suggests that at least a part of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center has not been up to that task.

But technology could also provide some solutions. Last week, Paul Brinkley, deputy undersecretary of Defense for business transformation, talked about how the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, the military’s all-encompassing health records management program, could address many of the problems cited by the Post’s exposé by integrating dozens of health systems spread throughout the Army, Air Force, Reserves and National Guard.

The Buzz contenders

#2: Wanted: budget plans
The rest of the government finally got funding when lawmakers passed and the president signed a continuing spending resolution covering most agencies other than the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Now the Office of Management and Budget is awaiting spending plans, said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for information technology and e-government.

The spending bill requires every agency to submit a detailed operating plan to the House and Senate Appropriations committees before expending any money this year. Those documents will also help assess how IT money is spent, officials said last week.

Evans said some agencies already have those plans, but others will be busy pulling them together in the coming weeks.

#3: Hillary’s contractor cuts
The presidential election is two years away, but the race has started. It already appears that government contracting could be a significant campaign issue. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) told an audience of union workers at a campaign event last week in Carson City, Nev., that she would cut 500,000 government contracting jobs, according to press reports.

The press reports didn’t state whether Clinton had a plan for what would happen after the cuts.

#4: Contracting on the mind
Meanwhile, outsourcing is the top legislative concern of the American Federation of Government Employees, union officials said last week. Citing OMB’s “heavy-handed direction of the privatization process,” John Threlkeld, AFGE’s legislative director, said more lawmakers want to give agencies autonomy in the sourcing arena.

AFGE wants Congress to prevent the Bush administration from “institutionalizing its version of the privatization process so it remains in place, no matter who succeeds President Bush in the White House,” Threlkeld said. “We understand that this administration wants to go out with a bang, not a whimper, on competitive sourcing.”

#5: Networx timetable
John Johnson probably gets sick of people asking if Networx is on time. But as long as we’re on the subject, yes, the General Services Administration’s Networx telecommunications contract is on time, said Johnson, assistant commissioner of integrated technology services at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. During a forum last week, he said jokingly that the first Networx contracts will be awarded in March. GSA isn’t saying when in March, but it will be awarded in March, he said.

It was one year ago this week that GSA announced it was going to delay the Networx awards. The agency will award Networx Universal next month. GSA expects to award Networx Enterprise in May. That contract is for a more limited range of services in specific geographic areas.

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