ONC budget not likely to increase

Congress appears unwilling to give the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology much, if any, of an increase from its current annual budget of $60.5 million.

The Bush administration had requested an increase to $66.2 million for ONC for the fiscal year that begins in October. However, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted June 26 to hold the funding to this year’s level, while approving a $3.5 billion increase in total spending by the Health and Human Services Department .

The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to act on its HHS appropriations bill, but the committee's meeting ended when a Republican minority attempted to force a vote on the Interior Department's appropriations. That bill is expected to come up in July, but the Republicans said it had implications for gasoline prices and warranted immediate action.

House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) exchanged sharp words with Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the committee, before adjourning the meeting without a vote on either the HHS measure or the Interior bill.

The draft bill pending in the committee would have given ONC a $1.4 million increase, to $61.9 million.

If both appropriations committees’ recommendations are approved as drafted, the House and Senate must reach a compromise between the two figures through a conference committee.

The health IT office is just one of hundreds of items in the massive Labor, HHS and Education appropriations bills, and it did not come up for discussion June 27.

However, the report accompanying the House bill had some criticism of ONC. It congratulated the office on completing its strategic plan recently, but added: “The Committee is disappointed, however, that the report seems to have omitted any identification of the resource requirements for achieving specific performance benchmarks, despite a specific Committee request.”

The report also urges ONC to complete its privacy and security framework this year, as the national coordinator, Dr. Robert Kolodner, has promised to do.

About the Author

Nancy Ferris is senior editor of Government Health IT.

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