Chopra: Cost of 'data liberation' projects negligible

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Federal Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra downplayed the cost of open government programs, June 2.

"The marginal cost of initiatives like Blue Button are negligible. I mean, not even rounding errors in the operating budgets of agencies," said Chopra at an industry event in Falls Church, Va. hosted by Accenture and Bisnow.

"They do not need new line items of billion-dollar programming that has congressional new investments. All of the data liberation activities have been done in this administration within existing operating budgets, where folks have basically allocated a higher operating value use, which is in this case liberating data," said Chopra.

Less than 10 days prior, Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra sought assistance from lawmakers in bolstering e-gov funds. An $8 million congressional appropriation, said Kundra, will permit the Office of Management and Budget to continue hosting the IT Dashboard, Data.gov and Performance.gov, but it's not enough to make further developments to those sites. According to a March progress report, the e-gov fund spent $3 million on data.gov during fiscal 2010.

Chopra said open data is especially critical in using health information to meet meaningful use objectives for electronic health records. "When you liberate data from these digital systems, now new applications can, actually, at low transaction cost connect and build value. It doesn't do you any good as an entrepreneur if you build some amazing product or service to keep me healthy but it costs you $100,000 to configure to connect to the DoD or VA system. The friction there is ridiculous," said Chopra.

The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments hope the planned Integrated Electronic Health Record, or iEHR, will allow for private-sector products to easily plug and play into the platform, said Capt. Michael Weiner, chief medical information officer for the DoD/VA Interagency Program Office.

"We'll put the data link somewhere else so that can then be utilized for things we probably can't even think about right now, but we're very excited to build that platform, that system to open it up for innovation," he added.

Weiner said joint efforts with VA and DoD are "in a better place than we've ever been."

"We have spent the last year coming closer and closer together and now we sit at a table twice a week discussing how we're all going to take our next generation electronic health record and make that on one platform," said Weiner.

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