Health IT

WH asks Congress for funds to improve stressed federal IT

The White House asked Congress March 18 for nearly $1.8 billion in funding for information technology improvements for several departments as agencies encourage federal employees to telework.

Earlier in the week, the Office of Management and Budget released guidance encouraging federal agencies to extend “maximum telework capabilities” to prevent widespread infections in the government. That has led to an increased amount of federal employees to work from home, straining government networks.

“With the pandemic growing, resource needs have also grown,” wrote acting OMB Director Russ Vought in a letter to Congress. “The unprecedented mobilization the administration has achieved has forced agencies to incur unanticipated costs. These costs must be met with a legislative response to ensure full operational capacity.”

Federal agencies are grappling with evolving policies as the government determines how to protect employees amidst the coronavirus pandemic. (Naeblys/Getty)
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The total IT request is largely driven by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ request for $1.2 billion to “support the agency’s quick shift” to telehealth and technology to deliver health care services.

“This shift would require upfront investment in information technology resources to support increased use of simultaneous telehealth appointments and upgrade associated bandwidth for employees and healthcare providers,” officials wrote in the request.

The White House request also includes $21 million for Department of Health and Human Services’ office of the national coordinator for health information technology to rapidly expand of a patient look up system to help both patients and medical personnel.

“This expansion would use an online database to help medical response teams access critical patient information to enable care coordination,” wrote White House budget officials.

The White House also asked for $123 million for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, part of which would be allocated for processing Medicare and Medicaid claims, handling increased call volume and “associated information technology needs." Part of another $75 million allocation for the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps will go its IT needs. The White House also asked Congress for $4.2 million for the HHS inspector general’s IT needs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency asked for $47 million to improve IT requirements, including expanded conference call capabilities, cybersecurity and virtual private networks, as well as several other non-IT activities.

The Department of the Interior requested about $196 million for several programs to improve IT capabilities for telework and cover the cost of overtime pay and redeployment federal employees in offices such as the Fish and Wildfire Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. The department also requested $17 million for its working capital fund to pay for network security upgrade to “reduce cybersecurity risks, including for servers that DOI manages for other agencies.”

The Department of Energy requested $29 million to support telework capabilities, including increased cybersecurity costs. The Department of Transportation asked for about $1.7 million for its working capital fund to increase access to DoT’s networks, expand VPN licenses and increase contractor help desk support. DoT also noted in its request that it expects to lose $135,000 per month in revenue from parking if its headquarters is completely teleworking.

The General Services Administration asked for $1.5 million for its working capital fund to support overtime costs supporting coronavirus-related purchases and acquisitions.

The IRS requested $241 million to “enhance IRS information technology capacity to respond and interact with taxpayers."

The Small Business Administration asked for $2 million for additional IT needs and telework support. The SBA is working to help small businesses handle the economic fallout of coronavirus.

The National Archives and Records Administration asked for $8.2 million for additional telework needs. According to budget documents, the funds include $5.5 million to increase remote access to NARA networks for employees, “including hardware and accelerating cybersecurity improvements."

In total, the White House requested $46 billion to combat the spread of coronavirus.

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