Davis: Lift bureaucracy on grants

The federal government should revamp the grants process that delivers funds for state and local information technology systems that support human services programs, officials said July 9 at a House subcommittee hearing.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) said at the hearing that state and local governments should have more flexibility to buy IT systems and services that support state-administered federal services programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps.

In fiscal 2000, the federal government spent almost $2 billion on IT for state systems that support child support enforcement, child welfare, Medicaid and food stamps programs, Davis said at a hearing before the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, of which he is chairman.

However, this grant process is burdensome, according to state officials. For instance, states must submit "advanced planning documents" before they can receive federal funding for developing IT systems to support human services programs. These APDs include a cost allocation plan, a feasibility study, requests for proposals and contracts.

"The current APD process for a project that pertains to a program overseen by just one federal agency adds the unpalatable ingredients of bureaucracy and delay," Aldona Valicenti, chief information officer for Kentucky, said at the hearing. "It is clear that the APD process strongly discourages using federal program funds to create common IT infrastructure."

The APD process should be restructured so it's easier for federal funds to be used for cross-program IT infrastructure projects, Valicenti said.

Others agree reform is in order. "We fully support the concept of the APD process, but recognize the fact that its implementation has at times been frustrating," Roberto Salazar, the administrator for the Agriculture Department's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), said in written testimony.

However, attempts to improve the process have failed, said David McClure, director of IT management issues for the General Accounting Office.

In response to state complaints, the Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, HHS' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and FNS formed a workgroup about two years ago to "improve the federal approval process, however, progress has been stymied by a lack of agreement among the agencies," Salazar said. As a result, there are no plans at this time to improve the APD process, he said.

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