HHS budget battles bioterror

The Bush administration is continuing efforts to protect against bioterrorism by increasing funding for food safety systems and information sharing in the public health sector.

Throughout the proposed fiscal 2004 budget for the Department of Health and Human Services are information technology projects intended to help protect the food supply and connect state and local public health agencies so that they can share information about possible threats.

Of the requested $539 billion for HHS, $3.6 billion would be dedicated to antibioterrorism funding and $119.8 million would go to the Food and Drug Administration for protecting the food supply.

Included in this is $10.5 million to implement a new registration system for domestic and foreign food production, handling and storage facilities. Food facilities must register with the FDA by Dec. 12, allowing the agency to regulate the more than 400,000 food facilities in the country.

The budget request includes $114 million for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public health initiatives. This funding would include the National Electronic Disease Surveillance System, which is part of an information network that will integrate public health activities at all government levels while meeting confidentiality and security requirements.

CDC also would fund the expansion of the Health Alert Network to reach 90 percent of all county public health agencies this year. The network integrates public health systems and serves as a foundation for nationwide disease surveillance.

CDC's budget also includes an increase of $10 million for the development of the Public Health Information Network, building on existing public health communication systems. The network will include public health standards necessary for inoperability among federal, state and local health authorities.

The budget includes $18 million to continue funding for the IT Security and Innovation Fund, focusing on e-government projects, common infrastructure services and enterprise architecture investments.

The budget also would provide $50 million to implement and evaluate hospital-based IT investments designed to enhance public safety. The funding for HHS' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is a $24 million increase and would focus on small-community and rural hospitals.

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