HHS gets slice of bioterror budget

The Bush administration is seeking a 6 percent increase in funding for information technology projects for the Department of Health and Human Services, but that hardly tells the complete story for the lead agency on bioterrorism.

Laced throughout the fiscal 2003 funding request for homeland security initiatives are dozens of projects expected to have IT components in them, including medical surveillance systems and public health preparedness planning.

"The threat of bioterrorism is now a reality, and the budget includes resources to respond at HHS and across government," the budget document said.

The overall budget includes $1.6 billion to help state and local health care systems improve their ability to respond to bioterrorist attacks and any surges in demand for health care in an emergency. More than $400 million would be allocated to the Defense Department to develop better detection, identification, collection and monitoring technology to respond to bioterrorist attacks.

The HHS IT budget request of $4.9 billion includes $250 million — a 10 percent increase — for IT at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

It also earmarks $22 million for an IT Security and Innovation Fund that would supply the seed money for enterprise infrastructure projects. It includes funds for financial management systems and networks that support HHS's primary mission to promote the public's health. Among those are networks for mammography information and an organ transplant registry.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson has pledged better coordination of IT systems. He has promised to consolidate IT staff, develop a comprehensive e-government strategy and develop a governmentwide e-grants program.

But in his own office, Thompson is still having e-mail problems. Although he complained last year to Congress that it was faster to walk a message down a flight of steps than to send it electronically, e-mail at the department has not yet been upgraded.

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