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Facebook: The Next Frontier?

If you hadn't already heard, GovWin's State and Local Information Services team is in the process of expanding our social media footprint. One of the possible outlets is utilizing Facebook for business purposes. Yes, you heard right, Facebook AND business in the same sentence. Although it may come as a shock to some, Facebook is not just for keeping tabs on friends and playing online games. When developed and marketed correctly, the social networking site can be a highly effective business tool. Facebook is the second most visited site on the Internet, has more than 500 million active users worldwide (who spend an estimated 700 billion minutes per month on the site), and has more than 200 million active mobile users.

As a member of the health care and social services team, it's interesting to note that according to a recent National Research Corporation's (NRC) Ticker survey, one in five Americans use social media websites as a source of health care information, with Facebook topping the list. Ninety-four percent turned to the networking site to gather health care information. Although the data the NRC is looking for is more medically based, the idea of using Facebook or a Facebook-like system in the health information technology world has been broached.

At a recent conference, one of our analysts noted that a state worker from Florida "couldn't understand how his grandson can connect with friends on Facebook, but he can't connect social service systems." Taking it one step further, he sat down with tech guys for a few hours to explore the possibility of using social media as a connectivity model. If you think that model may be farfetched, check out Casebook, a Web-based family information management platform that utilizes social Web and visual media to support family-centered and team-based practices in the child welfare arena.

On the state and local front, I lost count of the number of state and county health and social services departments with Facebook pages. Although most of the posts are pushing public health awareness information out to citizens, could the Facebook platform be used to foster business relationships between vendors and the departments? Social networks have the power to put communities and their conversations into the corporate buying process (if integrated into a purchasing system). Imagine states having an ability to receive instant peer reviews or recommendations when selecting a product or vendor service. Changes will need to be made sooner rather than later as the Facebook-generation recruits enter the workforce.

Deltek, GovWin, GovWin, and newly-acquired FedSources have Facebook pages aimed at connecting with our members and prospects. Are you a fan? Does your business utilize Facebook in an innovative way? Feel free to share any success stories or words of advice.

Most Commonly Used Dispatch Technology

The second installment of this week's blog series on National Public Safety Telecommunications Week focuses on some of the most popular technology used by public safety answering points (PSAPs).

The most well-known technology used by dispatchers is 9-1-1, though the type of 9-1-1 system used can vary depending on the PSAP. Recently, there has been a huge movement from basic 9-1-1 systems to those with increased capabilities such as enhanced 9-1-1 (E9-1-1) or next generation 9-1-1 (NG 9-1-1 or Next Gen 9-1-1). When using a basic 9-1-1 system, dispatchers do not have access to the phone number or location from which someone is calling, and must use a radio system to alert the appropriate emergency responders. E9-1-1 routes the call to the closest PSAP where the dispatcher has automatic access to the caller's phone number and their location. As of 2006, 93 percent of counties use an E9-1-1 system.

NG9-1-1 is Internet Protocol enabled and the most advanced form of 9-1-1 to date. It has the ability to connect numerous different public safety entities across a town or region to the NG9-1-1 network. Those entities then have the ability to receive and/or transfer calls and data sent on the system. These systems are capable of handling not only voice-based data, but also multimedia data such as a text or picture message.

Once a call is received, dispatchers use another technology that increases not only the timeliness of 9-1-1 response, but its effectiveness: the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system. CAD systems are used by PSAPs in individual towns and cities as well as counties. Currently, more than 100 institutions are looking to purchase a CAD system. CAD compiles information from other systems such as geographic information systems (GIS) and automatic vehicle location (AVL) systems to provide dispatchers with a complete picture of the location of the emergency and the potential responders. As a computer-mapping system, it automatically provides responders with directions and notifies them of any particular information they may need when they arrive, such as whether the caller has a disability or requires special care. The automatic number identification (ANI) and automatic location identification (ALI) components ensure dispatchers and first responders have immediate access to both the phone number of the caller and the GPS coordinates.

Through a records management system (RMS), information can also be fed on past emergencies with the caller at that location, which allows responders to assess the possible emergency condition before they arrive on the scene. The AVL component allows dispatchers to see the exact location of all first responders within their catchment area and direct the closest and most appropriate responders to the location. This allows for a more timely response when seconds are of the essence.

Another technology frequently used by 9-1-1 operators is a voice logging/recording system that records and keeps track of all communication into and out of the call center. This includes all phone calls and radio communications that can later be used by police and prosecutors if a crime has occurred.

These technologies can either be purchased as a suite or separately to upgrade certain parts of an existing system rather than purchasing a new one. With a complete public safety suite, PSAPs can direct first responders swiftly and accurately to an emergency while preparing them for what they may find upon arrival.

While technology available through NG9-1-1 systems has the ability to revolutionize first-responder activity, only a small fraction of PSAPs have access to them. Funding has proved to be a huge impediment for the majority of PSAPs, particularly in the current economic climate where many towns and counties are struggling to secure funds to upgrade current systems. This is not to say that achieving funding for these systems is impossible. Ulster County, NY and Denton County, Tx both awarded contracts for NG 9-1-1 systems last year. In a report released by GovWin last July, it was determined that in FY 2011, 59 requests (approximately $60,000) to fund 9-1-1 projects nationwide were made. Comparably, there were only 22 requests for CAD systems. Nearly all funding requests for local-level projects such as NG9-1-1 and CAD were in localities with budget deficits. Vendors focusing on providing NG9-1-1systems would therefore be wise to recognize this gap between a long-term need for a NG9-1-1 system and the present lack of funding. Pursuing more short-term goals of providing maintenance to current systems may pay long-term dividends in relationship and contact building, which may put a company at the top of the county's list when budgets recover. While it is undeniable that NG9-1-1 has significant potential for first responders, it is unlikely that most PSAPs will be installing a system anytime soon. As long as their E9-1-1 systems function, the justification simply isn't there for the purchase of an entirely new system, no matter what technological advances it could bring.

National Public Safety Telecommunications Week

What is National Public Safety Telecommunications Week?

In addition to being National Library Week, National Victims of Crime Week, National Student Employment Week, National Environmental Education Week, and National Wildlife Week, it is also National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. Supported by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO), it was established in order to bring much deserved attention to the dedicated public servants involved in the public safety telecommunications realm, such as 9-1-1 call takers and dispatchers.

What is APCO?

APCO is the worlds largest organization of public safety communications professionals. It serves the needs of public safety communications practitioners worldwide and the welfare of the general public as a whole by providing complete expertise, professional development, technical assistance, advocacy and outreach. Over the past 12 months, GovWins justice and public safety (JPS) team made a concerted effort to become more involved in the 9-1-1 dispatch community by attending the National APCO Conference, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) Annual Conference, as well as presenting educational sessions at state-level APCO/NENA conferences in Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado and California. Today, Senior Analyst Jeff Webster will give a presentation titled Federal Grants for Public Safety at the Ohio Association of Public Safety Communication Officials/National Emergency Number Association (APCO/NENA) annual conference. Wednesday April 20th, Analyst Evan Halperin will present on public safety grants at the annual conference of the New Jersey Chapter of the National Emergency Number Association.

Blog Series

In terms of media coverage, first responders tend to get most of the attention. There have been countless television shows and movies focused on the work and lives of police officers and firefighters, with the role of the dispatcher relegated to a nondescript voice in the background. However, if you take some time to speak with public safety dispatchers, you will find a group of hard working individuals who have dedicated their careers to helping others. This is why it is particularly important to recognize those who have chosen this profession. In support of National Public Safety Telecommunications Week, the JPS team (@GovWin_PubSafety) will do our part in getting the word out with a series of blogs devoted to 9-1-1 communications. Make sure to check back daily for upcoming blogs on:

Florida's Proposed FY 11 - 13 Budget: A Vertical Overview

Florida Governor Rick Scott presented his proposed biennial state budget (FY 11 – 13) on February 7, 2011. Scott was one of the newly elected governors from the class of 2010 who campaigned on the promise of curbing big government. So, it was no surprise that his first order of business was to create a budget that slashed spending and lowered taxes – what he calls his 7-7-7 plan of seven steps to 700,000 jobs over seven years. Even with Scott's zeal to save the state through his "jobs budget," with Florida ranking 8th in the country for the highest number of foreclosures, and third for the highest rate of unemployment, he has his work cut out for him.

Table 1: Florida Budget Comparison Across FY 11 - 13

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Note: GovWin's budget estimates and IT budget estimates are based upon reported expenditures in the Governor's budget. IT expenditures include both published line items and operations and management expenses; published IT budgetary numbers in the budget proposal may not reflect all state IT spending.

With $5 billion dollars in deep and proposed cuts over a wide breadth of government spending, it is clear Governor Scott wants to present a show of force in his battle to shrink government, which is sure to rub more than a few Floridians the wrong way. This new tone was set on Governor Scott's first day in office, when he signed an executive order that halted all new and pending contracts valued at $1 million or more for 90 days. Compared to FY 10 – 11 spending, Governor Scott's FY 11 – 12 budget cuts target education (-88.21%) and health care (-100%) IT verticals. Many of the programs affected by cuts provide services to the elderly, disabled, and low-income residents, including a proposed $3 billion cut to Medicaid over two years. Even the usually safe PK-12 education spending saw a 10 percent reduction in per-pupil spending.

Governor Scott's FY 11 – 12 budget increased spending in some IT verticals (compared to FY 10 – 11), primarily in general government services (650.70%) and economic development/regulation (513.86%). Specifically, the Agency of Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT), the Department of Workforce Innovation, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Management Services (which handles all state procurements) all have proposed funding increases. These increases fall in line with Governor Scott's priorities to fund consolidation efforts and create jobs.

Figure 1: Florida Budget Vertical Comparison Across FY 11 to 13

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Note: GovWin's budget estimates are based upon reported expenditures in the Governor's budget.

Governor Scott also looks to save funds by consolidating several state departments and agencies, including the AEIT. Originally part of the Governor's Office, the AEIT would be moved under the authority of the Department of Management Services. The move would revise the duties of the agency by adding the responsibilities of planning, project management, and implementation of all provided services. It would also consolidate the state's information technology resources (i.e. – data centers, software, hardware, and any other IT-related procurement) under the Department of Management Services and the AEIT, with the exception of the Department of Corrections, which would become responsible for maintaining its own data systems.

Obviously, Governor Scott wants a leaner government, which he plans on achieving by tightening the state's belt and tracking every dollar. Smaller, often redundant and more specific departmental business opportunities may become increasingly scarce as fewer, yet larger and more overarching statewide opportunities become the new normal. With the likely transfer of the AEIT and the consolidation of IT resources and services statewide, it is expected that opportunities for data center consolidation are on the horizon.

Finally, GovWin projects many expiring state IT contracts may be rebid or renegotiated in hopes of garnering better rates rather than automatically renewing an additional term at a higher cost. Looking forward, this could mean a more concentrated pool of qualified vendors going after the same bids in an environment of increased competition. Despite the cuts and the likely resulting competition, IT opportunities will still exist for astute and patient companies willing to do business with the state.

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(Subscription to GovWin State & Local Industry Analysis required.)

United States Joint Forces Command's Transformation is Underway

The United States Joint Forces Command's move from a four-star command to that of a two-star command is underway. Disestablishment of the command is expected to be complete by August 2011. All personnel moves are planned to be complete by March of 2012.

While the initial plan was too completely shutter USJFCOM, now its core mission areas (training, joint force provider, joint concept and doctrine development and joint integration) and modeling and simulation activities will stay intact along with the personnel and budget to support the work. However, the activities will align under The Joint Staff.

The Joint Staff's monetary support of the move begins in FY 2012, with a $16.5 million request to cover all Joint Staff activities for the year. Specifically, the request sets aside a one-time expenditure of $5.3 million to cover transition costs of consolidating USJFCOM's Hampton Road's IT Infrastructure with that of the existing Joint Staff.

The remaining $11.2 million is being requested to provide various level of enterprise network support. The funds are intended to maintain and manage global communications and computer networks for The Joint Staff elements in the Hampton Roads, VA area.

Specific elements of the enterprise network that will be funded include a broadband communication subsystem that connects to operational DOD networks and is capable of carrying voice, video, imagery and data throughout DoD. This subsystem provides for real-time access to world-wide networks such as: Defense Research and Engineering Network (DREN), Defense Information System Network (DISN), Navy/Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI), etc.

Some of the specific capabilities that support the enterprise include and will be provided for in the request include:

  • Network-based Distributed Video Services
  • Web Servers
  • Phone Expansion Port Node (EPN)
  • Enterprise Storage Area Network (SAN)
  • SPECAT Network - 15-20 workstation, 2-3 servers, network printers
  • Financial Support Systems

Additionally, as part of the transformation process, the following initiatives are expected to take place to maintain operational readiness.

  • Cable & Fiber Plant Maintenance Support
  • Cisco Equipment Maintenance Service
  • Enterprise Networks Life Cycle Replacement
  • Network Tools Upgrade
  • Network Management Upgrade

Upcoming opportunities within the divisions of USJFCOM that will be migrating to The Joint Staff can be found in GovWin's USJFCOM Agency Profile and Agency Planner.

California Technology Agency opens its doors to vendors

Yesterday, the California Technology Agency announced it will hold a vendor open house April 27, 2011 as part of its efforts to "promote innovation and creative problem solving as the state works to balance its budget and overhaul its technology infrastructure." This open house will provide vendors with a 15-minute open forum to pitch innovative, cost-saving solutions to representatives from a wide variety of state agencies.

Any vendor with an interest in doing business with California should consider participation in this event as mandatory. In a state as large as California, getting face time with IT decision-makers can be an arduous process, and there is no reason to not take advantage of this opportunity. For a more in-depth look at the importance of building relationships in the business development process, take a look at a blog posting from GovWin's Business Development Panel:"Capture Is a Contact Sport."

In order to present cost-saving ideas, vendors will need to start educating themselves on what the state's current costs and project plans are. As I mentioned in a blog posting last week , the California Technology Agency has been extremely forward thinking in terms of IT planning in the face of budget uncertainties. GovWin members can take advantage of extensive analysis of California's FY 11-12 budget conducted by my colleagues on the general government services research team. A quick summary can be found via Analyst Erin Brady's March 11, 2011 blog and full documents can be found in the State & Local Industry Analysis Library

This opportunity is particularly valuable because as long as vendors refrain from discussing ongoing procurements or confidential intellectual property, they are in a position to control the direction of conversations. Given the 15-minute time limit of these meetings, vendors would be wise to carefully plan their efficiency-solutions presentations. The open house is not the proper time for flashy PowerPoint slideshows or in–depth explanations of company history. Stick to straight-to-the-point conversations about where the state's pain points are and how your solution can alleviate the problem.

Texas' Proposed FY 11 - 13 Budget: A Vertical Overview

Texas' Governor, Rick Perry presented his proposed state budget (FY 11 – FY 13) to the legislature on February 8, 2011. Despite widespread media reports that Texas is facing a profound budget challenge with significant projected deficits ($27 billion in the current fiscal year, alone), Governor Perry remained relatively upbeat in his yearly budget presentation. In it, he denounced efforts to raise taxes and ballyhooed the state's recent economic and job growth successes. While he did acknowledge the difficulty presented by the deficit, he claimed success in his past budget decisions through the relative strength of the Texas economy compared to the rest of the nation. In his proposed budget, the governor championed careful priority setting to consolidate services for greater efficiency and suspend services that were deemed unnecessary functions of state government.

Table 1: Texas Budget Comparison Across FY 11 - 13

Click for Full Size
Note: GovWin's budget estimates and IT budget estimates are based upon reported expenditures in the Governor's budget. IT expenditures include both published line items and operations and management expenses; published IT budgetary numbers in the budget proposal may not reflect all state IT spending.

Despite the governor's positive rhetoric, his proposal indicates significant cuts in spending ($17.9 billion, or an 18.8% cut from FY 11 – FY 12) that are likely to sting many Texans and greatly impact government contracting opportunities for years to come. The following vertical analysis examines the impact of the Texas budget cuts on state spending and IT contracting; the state will likely be more selective in spending, carefully discerning needs from wants.

Figure 1: Texas Budget Vertical Comparison Across FY 11 13

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Note: GovWin's budget estimates are based upon reported expenditures in the Governor's budget.

In FY 10 – 11, nine verticals (higher education, primary/secondary education, general government, health care, natural resources and environment, public finance, social services, and transportation) experienced budget growth. However, with the drastic cuts necessary to balance the budget in FY 11-12, the only vertical budgetary increase was public finance (6.57%). While most verticals decreased over the same period, the deepest three reductions (in order) were community development (-84.75%), health care (-31.88%), and general government (-24.12%). These budgetary choices were not surprising considering the governor's priorities of preserving economic growth opportunities while cutting areas he considered overly burdensome (including federally mandated health care reform and many general government services).

The aggregate vertical picture improved for FY 12 – 13 with three verticals showing growth, including health care (15.95%), social services (4.51%), and natural resources and the environment (2.37%). Following the trend of cuts, several verticals indicated decreases in FY 12 - 13, with the top three (in order) being general government (-28.45%), economic development and regulation (-16.75%), and transportation (-13.07%). At first glance, the budgetary choices for FY 12 – 13 may not seem immediately in line with the governor's stated priorities, specifically with regard to the decrease in economic development funding and increase in health care spending. However, the increases in health care were likely the result of cost predictions based upon government mandates. Similarly, with cuts being extended across the board, even cuts to economic development funding were probably inevitable.

Examining the overall budget verticals, it is clear the state is in deep financial difficulty and cutting virtually every conceivable area for the upcoming fiscal years. However, looking past FY 11 – 12, projections indicate slightly increasing budgets (albeit, far from pre-recession levels) that may indicate increasing opportunities.

Governor Perry's slashed budget will probably result in reduced procurements for most verticals. However, Texas will still need core services and, as indicated by the governor, these needs will likely be prioritized by necessity. While IT spending will be essential in Texas' efforts to reduce the cost of government, like the rest of the budget, the outlook for IT spending in the state is challenged, with reductions coming in each of the upcoming fiscal years. However, even with these reductions, IT procurement opportunities are still projected, with some verticals showing fiscal year specific growth potential. With these realities in mind, IT business strategies in Texas might include focusing on areas with the least cuts or focusing specifically on IT verticals that project growth in a specific fiscal year.

Governor Perry's budgetary rhetoric was certainly more positive than the upcoming $18 billion in cuts. To be sure, the reality of the cuts necessary to balance Texas' budget will be felt by both residents and contractors doing business with the state alike. Despite the projected cuts, IT business opportunities still exist for patient and astute companies. Looking forward past FY 11 – 12, both the state's budget and related business opportunities should improve.

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GovWin Pulse: Justice, Public Safety and Homeland Security March Review

The justice, public safety and homeland security markets seemed to hold a lot of interesting nationwide trends in March. In February, GovWin reported on Florida's prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) troubles. Newly-elected Governor Rick Scott was not interested in letting the program move forward and began taking measures to halt it. While the situation in Florida may be seen as an isolated event, it could serve as an impetus on legislation pending in Maryland and Georgia, both of which have bills that would create a PDMP under review. In Wisconsin, legislation passed for a PDMP, but not much further action has been taken. The state continues to debate database access and what information and standards should be included.

While a state and local initiative for cybersecurity may not typically turn many heads, a large-scale project out of Colorado for a cybersecurity plan should do the trick. Cybersecurity, typically seen as a nationwide issue pertaining to the federal government, may be one of the next new growth areas for states and localities. Colorado released its 2010 cybersecurity performance audit, the results of which could lead to a variety of safety measures requiring outside companies to provide an array of solutions to safeguard the state's databases and other important information. GovWin is closely monitoring cybersecurity trends and will continue to report on related state initiatives.

Another trend evident in March was radio projects remaining constant across the country despite ailing budgets. As is often the case with these initiatives, in Wisconsin, the stakes are increasingly rising. Calumet County issued a solicitation for FoxComm, a joint radio communications project that will link Calumet, Outagamie and Winnebego counties. Brown County was previously part of FoxComm, but opted out and contracted Motorola for $14.5 million for a new radio system. Dane County also purchased a brand new system from Harris Corp. for $15 million. It will be interesting to see how the FoxComm solicitation plays out and whether one of the two radio communications giants, Motorola or Harris Corp., will play a role in building out the system.

Large radio projects were not confined to Wisconsin last month. Harris County, Texas awarded a radio system contract to Motorola. In Dallas, bid proposals were received and are now under evaluation for a P25 compliant radio system consultant. The city hopes to move forward with a contract in May 2011 and have a report by the end of the year.

Earlier this year, the Center for Immigration Studies issued a report on driver's license security implementation that provided details on each state's progress in meeting a variety of benchmarks. Included in these benchmarks were a state's commercial driver's license information system (CDLIS), a national driver registry (NDR), social security online verification (SSOL), systematic alien verification for entitlements (SAVE), and electronic verification of vital events (EVVE). While some states meet many of these marks, there is much work to be done. In Minnesota, contract negotiations are underway for MNLARS , which will completely overhaul the driver's license, title and registration, and compliance systems. Maryland, which began its driver's license overhaul in 2007, is currently in the source selection phase of its REAL ID implementation and central issuance overhaul. The state is also in the process of determining how to rebuild its titling and registration information system (TARIS). As states seek to achieve full compliance and all 18 benchmarks for REAL ID, more contracts nearing their final terms could be rebid or revamped.

One final observation that seems to always be prevalent is that of project sharing and local governments working together. As we saw in the FoxComm project with agencies dropping out of agreement, it's not always smooth sailing, but large-scale (or even small-scale) projects that combine resources, funding and ingenuity can ease the burden for all agencies involved.

Consolidated dispatch efforts are sweeping Connecticut by storm after the state identified a glaring concern with its small-town dispatch facilities. In order to improve 911 response, the state is initiating discussions and negotiations for various cities and towns to join forces and develop consolidated dispatch facilities. While some towns are jumping at the opportunity for state funding and lowered dispatch costs, others are not as excited. It will be interesting to see how these dispatch efforts play out and whether it improves the situation or just brings more problems.

As a brief recap, March saw a variety of counties award contracts for radio systems, while other regional efforts are just beginning. Prescription drug monitoring programs, which are only absent in a few states, seem to be getting a final push that would outfit each state with a PDMP. While the REAL ID time frame established by the federal government has been extended, it has not stopped several states from pursuing new statewide systems. Finally, will we continue to see more states move toward new cybersecurity initiatives? Only time will tell.

Analysis of the Texas Department of Public Safety Agency Strategic Plan 2011-2015

Back in November 2010, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) released their fiscal year 2011-2015 Agency Strategic Plan. The report outlines objectives, strategies, and plans for the next five years. These range from enhancing public safety and improving interoperability to enhancing border control and improving driver and motor vehicle safety. On top of these objectives, the Director outlined six challenges the DPS faces. Below are four of the six that may have IT implications.

  • Protect Texas from increasingly dangerous criminal and terrorism threats with the same or less resources.
  • Provide exceptional service in the issuance of driver licenses even though the demand and new requirements have exceeded our capacity in personnel and facilities.
  • Modernize the Department's information technology to include a case management system and financial, human resource, grant tracking, and inventory applications.
  • Address over $370 million in repairs to DPS facilities across the state, and acquire regional facilities in San Antonio and El Paso.

Within the Strategic Plan, the DPS also outlined new technologies that the Department will be fully integrating into operations. It also provided insight into a recent independent assessment of the IT organization in which five IT strategies were identified. In order to achieve these strategies, the Department has made recommendations on key technology programs that are essential. More information on these recommendations and the independent assessment can be found in the related "Analyst Perspective".

Current landscape of the Texas DPS:

-Appropriated Full-Time Employees (FY10)- 7,702

-Proposed Budget

  • FY 2010- $1.63b ($67.4m in IT expenditures)
  • FY 2011- $1.36b ($53.1m in IT expenditures)
  • FY 2012- $1.34b ($97.6m in IT expenditures)
  • FY 2013- $1.28b ($50.3m in IT expenditures)

-Total tracked GovWin Pre-RFP Opportunities- 11

GovWin Take: Given the size and scope of Texas, specifically the DPS, it is clear that this state holds a lot of money for vendors to capture. Texas and the cities/counties within it are among the industry leaders in public safety technology implementation. From their efforts with enterprise architecture to their dedication in building out comprehensive information sharing and communication networks, vendors should make a point to do business with the state. Not only will this business be fairly lucrative, but it will put you amongst the top players in this industry given the aspirations of the department.

Health Insurance Exchange Challenges on Display at AARP Forum

In Washington yesterday, the AARP hosted a solutions forum titled Launching Health Insurance Exchanges. In a robust panel discussion, leaders from Virginia, Maryland, Colorado, and Utah outlined challenges they are experiencing with their efforts to establish the health insurance exchanges mandated under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Having attended comparable discussions, I found it striking how similar the outlook and challenges are across the states. The same challenges are plaguing both red and blue states. While some tout the benefits of the ACA and others decry federally mandated reform, all agree that the 2014 deadline for the establishment of health insurance exchanges is a major hurdle, most notably in the IT requirements for eligibility determination.

Expounding on this at the forum, Director of Colorado Health Insurance Exchange Planning Joan Henneberry said the intersection of social services eligibility and the exchange keeps her up at night. Designing the necessary technical infrastructure is going to be easy, she said. However, designing a system that can interface with disparate legacy systems to achieve the "no wrong door" requirements for the exchange by 2014 (or realistically mid-2013) is a seemingly insurmountable hurdle at this point.

Another highlighted impediment to the federally-imposed timeline was the political climate surrounding the ACA. In the past, the idea of a health insurance exchange found bipartisan support. Most notably in 2007, conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation released a paper advocating the development of exchanges. Though perhaps substantively different from the model proposed in the ACA, the base idea is no doubt a free-market one that conservatives could support. Looking at the forum panel and around the nation, you would not get this impression.

Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Services Bill Hazel outlined it best when he glibly remarked that his position, which should be heavily focused on health policy, has become more acutely focused on constitutional arguments. Like many states with conservative Republican lawmakers, Virginia has been reluctant to move forward with the development of an exchange. This reluctance comes not from a substantive disagreement about the wisdom of the exchange, but rather from a political calculus that does not allow one to support a provision of the larger policy outlined in the ACA. Likewise, in Colorado, similar opposition has derailed legislation outlining the governance of the exchange.

This forum illustrates that states are long on questions, and the federal government is short on answers. Apprehension and doubt clearly abound, but the future of the health insurance exchange remains bright. Regardless of what happens with the ACA going forward, the health insurance exchange will be a prominent component of much needed health reform as conservatives and liberals come together behind this innovative, free market approach to provide greater insurance choice and coverage.

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