Above the Fold 05.04.09

Virginia informs software vendors how much its willing to pay…Mountain town left out in the cold…Snubbing the Veterans’ (software)…State and local gov’ts go to the bank…Not all of them, though…LA County child support staff being run ragged…AZ looks to Twitter, Facebook for asthma fix…

Information Technology contractors for the state of Virginia have agreed to rollback their rates by ten percent, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Virginia expects to save about $2 million in IT costs through 2010, but the rollback will affect about 250 vendor companies. “It comes out of our bottom line,” said Shanta Patel, president of Pragmatic Solutions Inc. The $2 billion Northrop Grumman program will not be affected, according to the original report, and nothing was mentioned as part of this update. The state will also look to recompete and consolidate its IT programs this summer as part of a broader overhaul.

The Denver Post reports that a contract between the state of Colorado and Qwest Communications, worth $37 million, to connect every county seat with high-speed Internet expires next year. And one county seat, Silverton, is still without reliable connectability. “This is the highway of information, and the highway has bypassed us,” said Silverton Trustee Pat Swonger. The city is now suing, arguing the town is legally entitled to the link, though Qwest spokespeople have said the company has met its obligations.

West Virginia is developing their electronic health records system using the Veterans Administration’s open-source platform, called VistA. The Boston Globe reports that very few US hospitals have taken advantage of the VA’s software, despite the cheap price tag. “I would think there would be a tremendous opportunity for using this as a platform, particularly for smaller hospitals that have a real challenge in coming up with the money for electronic medical records,” said Dr. William Weeks, an associate professor at Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice and Veterans Administration psychiatrist in Vermont. But other industry experts argue that persuading hospital executives to buy into a system without a large salesforce to promote it. “The business software alliance lobbies against any open-source provisions,” Edmund Billings, Medsphere’s chief medical officer, said.

USA Today reports that states are borrowing heavily to finance spending – $53.5 billion in the first quarter of 2009, in fact. “Governments with good ratings can borrow as much as they like at some very good rates,” says Steve McLaughlin, executive director of Municipal Market Advisors, a research company. But some worry that all the spending could come back to have a negative effect for future generations. “People ask, ‘If we’re in a recession, why are we building a library?’ ” McLaughlin says. “The money is available, but there’s political risk.”

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports how the decision to reject or take stimulus funds at the city or county level is exposing deep philosophical differences among leaders and townspeople. The case and point is the town of North Platte, Nebraska who refused about $600,000 from the Housing and Urban Development administration, causing an uproar among council members and public housing advocates.

The recession is driving unemployment, which is driving a steep increase in child support cases, the Los Angeles Times reports. In L.A. County, almost 450 new cases are filed each day, along with 3,000 calls from custodial parents asking child support staffers to crack down on deadbeats. It’s “the worst avalanche of new cases” family court judges and commissioners have seen in 30 years, the paper reports. “I have never seen the situation as bad as it is now,” said Christine Reiser-Juick, lead attorney at the state-run Office of the Family Law Facilitator in Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Central Civil West Courthouse, which helps parents who cannot afford to hire attorneys.

Arizona’s Department of Education, Environmental Quality and Health Services, the US EPA, Arizona State University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard have been working to develop a program to notify asthmatic children and the elderly about high-pollution advisories, the Arizona Republic reports. The system will use Twitter, text-messages and Facebook as part of its notification efforts. “For some time, we’ve looked beyond traditional notification systems,” said Patrick Cunningham, interim director of the state Department of Environmental Quality. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says 4,000 deaths a year in the United States are due to Asthma attacks and they contribute to 7,000 more.

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