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Texas budget shortfall may be worse than expected

This year, it's been evident to Texas lawmakers that there would be a rather significant shortfall with regards to the state budget. However, it seems that shortfall may be even larger than projected. The working estimate has now grown from $18 billion to about $21 billion dollars for the next two years.

It seems the size of the shortfall has always been a moving target; earlier this year it was estimated to be about $11 billion. "There are a lot of moving parts to the budget, and unfortunately, a lot of them are moving in the wrong direction," said Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association. Craymer is referring to the smaller-than-expected tax revenues and projected higher costs for education and health care. In fact, it is estimated that $2 billion of the new estimate can be attributed to the anticipated growth in public school enrollment, Medicaid caseloads, and higher health care and insurance costs for prisoners, government employees, and retirees.

Nevertheless, not all of this is bad news for the governor considering none of the current projections are actualized. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Steve Odgen has taken issue with the estimate, saying it "takes into account about 15 assumptions, all of which may not be right." In addition, lawmakers have a rainy day fund that is estimated to have $8.2 billion next year, but a super-majority vote would have to be made before spending the money.

The Texas emergency services IP network almost a reality

The state of Texas has been planning and developing a Next Generation Emergency Services IP Network (ESInet) for more than two years, and it will soon be a reality. In May 2008, L. Robert Kimball & Associates provided the Texas Commission on State Emergency Communications (CSEC) a needs assessment report for an ESInet. This was the first step in an implementation plan that is now closer than ever with the recent release of a request for information (RFI) and a draft request for proposals (RFP).

GovWin has been tracking this project since May 2008, shortly before the needs assessment was published. Following the needs assessment, L. Robert Kimball & Associates created a cost estimate report, and so began the planning for a statewide ESInet or next generation 911. Other agencies and vendors have played a role in this process, including the Department of Transportation, with help from Booz Allen Hamilton, the National Emergency Number Association (NENA), and Texas A & M University's Internet2 Technology Evaluation Center (ITEC).

In 2009, the CSEC issued its second version of a master plan for the ESInet, and later that year, the agency was awarded more than $5 million for the next generation implementation. In early 2010, the CSEC issued an RFP for additional consulting work, which was contracted to L. Robert Kimball & Associates – this time, to develop an RFP for the ESInet. A draft RFP is now on the CSEC website, along with an RFI for the final review and comments from the vendor community on this large-scale project.

In December 2010, the official RFP will be issued, and the following year, construction and implementation will begin. Only time will tell how this multimillion dollar project will unfold, but with various funding sources, years of planning, reports, and help from the vendor community, the ESInet will surely be the envy of many other states – and likely the model by which states develop their own systems

Top Homeland Security Grant Programs for FY 2011: State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSP)

Continuing this week's blog series highlighting the top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant programs for states and localities, today we will cover the State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSP).

State Homeland Security Grant Program

Overview: A sub-program of the Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP), this core assistance program aims to provide funding for states and localities to implement strategies and initiatives included in state preparedness reports. Eligible recipients include all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The State Administrative Agency (SAA) is the only entity eligible to apply for SHSP funds through FEMA.

Grant use: The main focus of the SHSP is to fund projects that prevent or mitigate acts of terrorism through law enforcement terrorism prevention-oriented planning; organization; training; exercise; and equipment activities; including those activities that support the development and operation of fusion centers. It is not uncommon for states and localities to use these funds to procure interoperable communications equipment, emergency management planning, information sharing networks, alerting equipment, or even surveillance networks.

Funding history: Like the UASI program, the SHSP is also a formula grant. This means DHS uses a mathematical equation encompassing population, crime, risk, and other variables to determine the funding level for each state. Funds are allocated based on risk analysis and the anticipated effectiveness of proposed investments by the applicants. Each state will receive a minimum allocation under the SHSP using the thresholds established in the 9/11 Act. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico will receive 0.36 percent of the total funds allocated. In FY 2010, $842 million was appropriated to the SHSP. This number is around three percent less than what was appropriated in FY 2009. Based on DHS's FY 2011 budget request, the SHSP is estimated to reach $1.05 billion in available funding for FY 2011 – a 24 percent increase from FY 2010.

Timeline: The SHSP grant application is typically released in November.

For more information on the SHSP program and funding history, please see GovWin's grants tool HERE.

Top Homeland Security Grant Programs for FY 2011: Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI)

This week, GovWin will highlight the top Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant programs for states and localities. These blogs will detail the grant programs, provide insight into their use, and give historical and anticipated funding. With many DHS grant program applications scheduled to be issued from November 2010 to January 2011, we hope to provide valuable information for vendors and government folks to plan and prepare to respond. The grant programs to be showcased throughout the week include: Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI); State Homeland Security Grant Program (SHSGP); Port Security Grant Program (PSGP); Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (AFG); and a few others. Below you will find information on the UASI grant program:

Urban Area Security Initiative Grant

Overview: This program aims to provide funding to highly populated, major metropolitan areas. These areas are classified as either Tier I or Tier II Urban Areas. Tier I Urban Areas (as outlined for FY 2010) include: California (Bay area and Los Angeles/Long Beach Area), the District of Columbia (National Capital Region), Illinois (Chicago area), Massachusetts (Boston Area), New Jersey (Jersey City/Newark Area), New York (New York City Area), Pennsylvania (Philadelphia Area), and Texas (Dallas/Fort Worth/Arlington and Houston areas). Tier II areas include 54 other large metropolitan areas across the country.

Grant use: The main focus of the UASI program is to fund projects that prevent or mitigate acts of terrorism through law enforcement terrorism prevention-oriented planning; organization; training; exercise; and equipment activities; including activities that support the development and operation of fusion centers. It is not uncommon for states and localities to use these funds to procure interoperable communication equipment, public addressing/alerting equipment, or even surveillance networks.

Funding history: The UASI program is unique in that it is a formula grant. This means DHS uses a mathematical equation encompassing population, crime, risk, and other variables to determine the funding level for each urban area. Tier I Urban Areas are usually allocated approximately two-thirds of the total funding appropriated. Tier II Urban Areas receive the additional one-third of the total funding appropriated for the program. In FY 2010, $832.5 million was appropriated to the UASI program. This number is around 4 percent higher than what was appropriated in FY 2009. Based on DHS's FY 2011 budget request, the UASI program is estimated to reach $1.1 billion in available funding for FY 2011 – a 32 percent increase from FY 2010.

Timeline: The UASI grant application is typically released in December.

For more information on the UASI program and funding history, please see GovWin's grants tool HERE.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Begins to Take Shape

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), authorized in the recently passed Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, will begin without a formal director as President Obama has chosen to circumvent the Congressional confirmation process for the time being and assign Elizabeth Warren, as an assistant and special advisor to the president charged with the Bureau's establishment. Serving in such a capacity, Warren could remain at the helm of the CFPB until a permanent director is nominated by the president and nominated by Congress.

The CFPB is being established to regulate financial products and services. Although it is officially part of the Federal Reserve, the CFPB is an independent, Executive agency, thus the director is nominated by the president and confirmed by Congress, as is the case with other Executive agencies.

As mentioned above, the CFPB acts as a separate entity from within the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve's Board of Governors is not allowed to intervene in any Bureau matters unless specifically allowed by law. The Board of Governors cannot make or direct any personnel changes at the Bureau. Additionally, the Board of Governors cannot change the Bureau's functions or responsibilities in any way.

The law requires the establishment of three functional units within the Bureau. They are:

  • Research – Which will research, analyze, and report on:
    • "developments in markets for all consumer financial products or services
    • access to fair and affordable credit for traditionally underserved communities;
    • consumer awareness, understanding, and use of disclosures and communications regarding consumer financial products or services;
    • consumer awareness and understanding of costs, risks, and benefits of consumer financial products or services;
    • consumer behavior with respect to consumer financial products or services, including performance on mortgage loans; and
    • experiences of traditionally underserved consumers, including un-banked and under-banked consumers."

  • Community Affairs - Which will "provide information, guidance, and technical assistance regarding the offering and provision of consumer financial products or services to traditionally underserved consumers and communities."

  • Collecting And Tracking Complaints – Which includes "establishing a single, toll-free telephone number, a website, and a database or utilizing an existing database to facilitate the centralized collection of, monitoring of, and response to consumer complaints regarding consumer financial products or services."
  • Operating authority for the CFPB is being transferred from a number of existing offices, commissions, and departments including:

  • The Federal Reserve - Board of Governors;
  • The Comptroller of the Currency;
  • Director of the Office of Thrift Supervision;
  • Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation;
  • Federal Trade Commission;
  • National Credit Union Administration; and
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    Information such as historical IT and overall budget comparisons, departmental strategic plans, acquisition data, and potential contract opportunities for a number of these and other related agencies is available in GovWin's Agency Profiles product. Department organizations and key points of contacts can be acquired through GovWin's Organization Charts.

  • BJA's Grant Writing Webinar Recap

    The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), in association with the National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC), gave an insightful webinar on the grant writing process earlier this week. The webinar, "Making Dollars and Sense – Grants 1.0," detailed the "ready, set, GO!" process of applying for state and local project grants and reinforced how important the application is to receive an award.

    The BJA stressed that long-term planning is an integral part in grant preparedness and suggested taking a holistic point of view and involving stakeholders in order to support the process. To optimize results, the BJA also recommended tapping into community resources and hiring unpaid college interns to help with data analytics. The presentation warned against only training one person for the grant writing task, and said to utilize succession planning. Further, the BJA suggested "following the money" for grant planning by monitoring trends, funding streams, and legislative action. For states and localities, competitive or discretionary grants are the most important. For more information, reference GovWin's Government Research Reports.

    Once a grant is released, the BJA said to read through the entire solicitation, construct an outline for responding, and follow the instructions exactly. There will be a lot of competitors, and a missing addendum could be the end to your proposal. If you have planned and prepared well, this process will be much easier. The BJA suggested attending the "BJA Grant Writing for Newbies" course and the grant writing and management academy (currently in development) to hone skills and practice interactively. Check GovWin's grant opportunities database for information about current grant opportunities.

    The budget review and budget narrative are very important components of the grant application. The BJA suggested tapping into your talent pool if math isn't your strong suit. Reviewers want to see calculated numbers and an explanation as to how their dollars will make the project work. Exact monetary amounts are highly regarded by reviewers.

    Reviewing grants is an open and fair, competitive process. Criteria for selecting awardees is typically included in the grant solicitation, and written comments are attached to reviewed applications. Be sure to keep the comments with the selection criteria for future reference, and learn from past successes and mistakes. The BJA stressed not getting discouraged if your first attempt does not receive funding. Practice makes perfect!

    Calling All Vendors: California Designated Entity Releases RFIPC

    Cal eConnect, Inc., the California designated entity overseeing health information exchange (HIE) implementation, released a request for information and public comment (RFIPC) on September 9, 2010. Cal eConnect's vision is to "build a solid foundation of HIE that provides safe and secure patient and provider access to personal and population health information, and dramatically improves the health and wellbeing, safety, efficiency and quality of care for all Californians."

    The private, nonprofit corporation, through a cooperative agreement between the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS) and the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC), will use the $38.8 million Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) award funding to develop and support HIE policies and services in the state of California.

    The main purpose of the RFIPC, per Cal eConnect, is to gain feedback on the overall approach and technical requirements in the core HIE services used to achieve meaningful use. California released its strategic and operational planning documents in March 2010 and completed its technical implementation in June. These core services include:

    • Messaging framework
    • Authorization framework
    • Entity registry
    • Service registry

    Responses and comments to the RFIPC are due by 5 p.m. PDT on September 30, 2010. Cal eConnect plans to release results from the RFIPC by October 29, 2010. GovWin is currently tracking the California HIE initiative here.

    GovWin's Take:

    States were expected to submit their operational/strategic planning documents to ONC by August 31, 2010. Approval of state plans is a prerequisite for states to receive federal funding and submit requests for proposals (RFPs) for an HIE. As a result, numerous states have submitted plans to ONC, which GovWin is tracking here. In addition, GovWin is currently analyzing the plans of each state and will be releasing a report at the end of the month. Stay tuned for more info!

    Notes From the 43rd Annual ISM Conference

    The 43rd Annual Information Technology Solutions Management (ISM) Conference, hosted by the Information Technology Solutions Management for Human Services, was held August 29-September 1, 2010, in Chicago, Ill. Discussions centered around how to accomplish more with less while seamlessly preparing for and implementing health care reform (HCR). Although this may seem too tall a task to conquer, presenters hammered the fact that states finally have the IT capabilities AND the leadership to make these changes happen. Many at the federal level stressed the importance of states breaking down siloed service systems (child support, child welfare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, etc.) and trying to create benefit delivery systems focused on families and clients. This would mean creating information exchanges between divisions so individuals only need to fill out one eligibility form online or in the office to enroll in any benefit program they qualify for. David Hansell of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) spoke about a project between the Children's Bureau and the Office of Child Support Enforcement that creates an HHS domain within the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). The domain, with its unique data elements, is titled (Youth and) Family Services. Hansell hopes this will help kick start state efforts to standardize data elements that can be transferred across divisions.

    Besides integration, the other buzz word (or maybe buzz date?) of the conference was 2014 - the start of HCR. It was almost unanimous that 2014 should be treated as if it is tomorrow, and that states do not have the luxury of taking their time when planning for future changes. Rick Friedman of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) estimates another 16 million people entering the Medicaid system in 2014. With most states focusing on how to fix their Medicaid management information systems (MMIS); upgrade eligibility systems; and create health insurance exchanges, Friedman and other officials fear states may not pay attention to "unnecessary ideas," such as interoperability with benefit systems, since they are not yet the main focus. Officials hope that while states plan and develop these new systems, they keep open ended and integrable architecture at the top of the list to connect to benefit service delivery systems in the future.

    For more information on the ISM Conference, please visit GovWin's Analyst Recap.

    New Jersey Solicits MMIS Product Demonstrations

    The state of New Jersey Department of Treasury Division of Purchase and Property, on behalf of the Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (DMAHS), released a notice for contractors to demonstrate their Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS) products and solutions. Contractors must submit applications to demonstrate by September 24, 2010. Demonstrations will take place October 12-18, 2010.

    Current Status: DHS is planning a procurement to replace the legacy MMIS, which is an Oracle relational database. The department contracted with Fox Systems to provide planning services, including the Medicaid Information Technology Architecture (MITA) State-Self Assessment as well as quality assurance during the implementation phase.

    Background: The incumbent MMIS contract with Molina (previously Unisys' product) will expire December 2013. In April 2008, the NJ Office of State Legislature released an audit indicating the department failed to properly monitor access to Medicaid participant's information, including social security and tax identification numbers and birth dates in the MMIS. Recommendations for improvements included an enhanced audit trail, such as department log-ins to access information.

    Funding/Contract Value: The value of the incumbent contract is estimated to be $169.2 million over the entire duration. GovWin estimates the replacement MMIS and fiscal agent contract could be valued even higher.

    For more details, please see GovWin Opportunity #17284.

    GovWin's Take:

    The Department of Human Services is stressing the need for vendors to be able to provide MMIS solutions capable of achieving MITA Maturity Levels 2 and even 3 for some business processes. These capabilities will enable the department to align with federal health care reform goals and sync with state health information technology (HIT) objectives. The MMIS replacement project is considered one of the key pillars to implementing the state's HIT program.

    Interested vendors are advised to capitalize on the opportunity to get acquainted with the department and highlight their solutions advantage. Vendors providing services around Medicaid, such as pharmacy benefit management and third party liability, are encouraged to participate.

    Social media use in public safety on the rise

    In the last few years, social media has become the go-to source for keeping in touch with friends, career networking, retrieving news, and even tracking your favorite celebrities. Gone are the days of relying on the six o'clock news, the morning paper, or rush hour radio to fill you in on the latest headlines. Now, with Facebook and Twitter leading the way, information is retrieved instantly through computers and mobile devices and updated in real time.

    More and more, states and localities are getting in on the action and utilizing social media tools to report vital information. According to coverage found in GovManagement, Morris County, NJ, recently activated a shared emergency information network among 39 towns to deliver public safety notifications and warnings. The emergency system, called MCUrgent, allows the county Office of Emergency Management (OEM) to swiftly relay information to residents via Facebook and Twitter. It was developed after a destructive storm this past March left New Jersey citizens scrambling to retrieve news in the wake of power outages. With MCUrgent, information on road closings, floods, shelter, accidents, and power outages can spread through the community with the touch of a keyboard.

    Currently, Morris County's OEM has more than 100 fans on its Facebook page and 32 Twitter followers. Updates can also be retrieved through mobile messages by texting "follow MCUrgent" to 40404. The county hopes to expand coverage by linking with multiple municipalities in one shared network.

    In August 2010, The American Red Cross released a report titled "Social Media in Disasters and Emergencies," which indicated nearly half of the 1,058 adults surveyed said they would sign up for emails, text alerts, or applications to receive emergency notifications. About half of the respondents also said they would share emergency information on their own social media channels.

    Sure, it is fun to read your friend is falling asleep at her desk by means of a Facebook status, or get a tweet on your cell phone from a rock star talking about a new song, but there is no denying social media's impact on the nation. Earlier this month, Twitter broke the news on the gunman holding hostages at Discovery Channel's headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. In January 2009, news of the emergency landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson River was first posted through a photo tweet, or Twitpic. President Obama's 2008 campaign was pioneered by heavy social media use, and many consider it a key element in his success.

    Whether emergency notifications, product promotion, celebrity gossip, breaking news, friendly banter, or random inquiries, the information gathered through social media is endless, and social media use in states and localities is sure to increase in the years to come. The National Association of State Chief Information Officers 2010 state CIO survey, reports that one in four states have statewide social media policies, and nearly half the states have CIO organizations using social media, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. Two-thirds have state agencies doing the same.

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