Above the Fold 04.15.09

Jumping the gun on border security…National Institute of Health: who wants a lolli?…Broadband here, broadband there, broadband everywhere…California IOUs, neat tricks and layoffs

A massive thorn in the sides of port workers and Congress alike gets some USA Today love this morning. The Transportation Worker Identification Card, or TWIC, is a $250 million project, plagued with setbacks and missed deadlines over the last six years. The main problem stems from the governments lack of a machine to read fingerprint ID cards. “Most people would say it’s real dumb to have security cards that rely so much on technology and yet you fail to provide a reader for the card,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “That was not the intent of the program.”

The National Institute of Health is doling out $200 million for research in biomedical, public health and health care delivery, Health Data Management reports. The grants, provided by the Recovery Act, will focus on health information technology initiatives as well, with information sharing and biomarker validation among the big-ticket items.

Broadband funds for rural areas of the country are going to not-so-rural places, a new report finds. Gumshoe journalism organization, ProPublica, uncovered a report blasting the Rural Utilities Service for sending money earmarked for communities of less than 20,000 to large, affluent areas in Texas. The RUS is in charge of disbursing funds from a rural broadband initiative, but assistant Inspector General Robert Young is unimpressed. “We remain concerned with RUS’ current direction of the broadband program, particularly as they receive greater funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” he said. The Wall Street Journal also chimes in with a story concerning broadband stimulus funds. WSJ says state and national officials are at odds over who is best suited to disburse about $7 worth of broadband funds – we’ll let you guess which side wants what. Check the story out here.

In related news, Washington, D.C.-focused publication Congressional Quarterly said that several lawmakers from NYC, Boston and San Francisco want “free or low-cost Internet access to city neighborhoods and housing developments” traditionally underserved when it comes to broadband access (and most other modern amenities).

The Sacramento Bee reports this morning that the state of California is looking for the government to back billions in short-term loans the state will seek this summer. “We’re going to need cash-flow borrowing the likes of which California has never seen, at a time when market and economic forces are stacked against us,” said Tom Dresslar, spokesman for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer. “That’s a recipe for calamity.” Reserve funds that are historically around $20 billion are expected to be around $6.9 by the end of June.

IT projects performed by the state of California are going to get a special reporting tool. Government Technology reports that a digital dashboard will track the progress of major state government technology projects. “In terms of the granularity of reporting, this is unprecedented,” Adrian Farley, chief deputy director for policy and program management at California’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, said. “We’re requiring a significant degree of transparency into project progress.”

To end this unhealthy relationship with California news, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that upwards of 5,000 teachers, councilers and janitors will be laid off. The Board of Education closed a nearly 600 million budget deficit, but the batter will continue to rage, the story reports. Most observers believe the budget will evolve to save some of those jobs, but Teach for America and the Peace Corp. might want to expect an influx of applications from California.

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