Many were quick to label the fiscal year 2016 budget proposed by President Obama earlier this month as wishful thinking given the likelihood of it passing a Republican-controlled Congress. However, within the budget are several important efforts to invest in data-driven innovation, which critics on both sides of the aisle should be careful not to write off. From developing powerful new medical technologies to improving financial transparency, Obama’s budget includes numerous data-focused, non-partisan provisions that offer great benefits to the public and private sector, and Congress should be sure to keep these in mind as it develops its own.
The president’s proposed budget provides funding for his administration’s Precision Medicine Initiative, a new research effort devoted to improving healthcare outcomes through the development of more personalized treatments—a practice that has immense promise. The $215 million in proposed funding for the initiative would be split between the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). A core portion of the Precision Medicine Initiative is the creation of a national research group of a million or more volunteers sharing their health data to be widely used by health researchers to better understand disease and develop better treatments. The National Cancer Institute, a division of the NIH, would receive funding to develop and test personalized treatments for cancer and create a data sharing network for its findings. The FDA and the ONC would receive funds to support these efforts by developing the modern regulatory framework required by such large data sharing networks.
The improvement of health data sharing is included elsewhere in the budget, raising the ONC’s total funding to $92 million—an increase of over $30 million from its current budget. In addition to supporting the Precision Medicine Initiative, this boost is designed to advance the interoperability of health IT as a whole. In particular, this funding would support Stage 3 of the electronic health record (EHR) meaningful use program. The meaningful use program defines a set of standards a healthcare professional or hospital must meet in their use of EHRs to qualify for incentive programs run the the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In 2011, Stage 1 of the program focused on the use of EHRs for data capture and sharing. In 2014, Stage 2 focused on using this health data exchange to improve clinical processes. Stage 3 of the program, which is set to begin in 2016, is designed to translate this progress into improved healthcare outcomes, increased efficiency, and an overall healthier population. Just a small drop in the bucket compared to the overall cost of budget, this commitment to better use and interoperability of health data is an easy win for policymakers looking to improve healthcare outcomes.
Throughout the proposed budget there are substantial investments in data-driven innovation designed to keep the United States competitive in the global economy. There are $3 billion in investments in science, technology, engineering, and math education, which would go a long way to address the data science skills gap—the difference between the high demand but low supply of workers educated in subjects like computer science and statistics. The National Science Foundation would receive a $257 million investment in advancing manufacturing, including through technologies like the Internet of Things. Finally, the National Institute of Standards and Technology would receive $12 million, up $5 million from its current budget, to focus on advancing the development of smart cities, i.e. cities that integrate the Internet of Things into municipal services and infrastructure.
Obama’s proposed budget also furthers the commitment to open government data established by the Administration’s Open Government Directive, which states that government data is a national asset to be made available to the public. The budget includes $16 million for the General Services Administration’s Federal Citizen Services Fund, which supports efforts to release open data. The Department of the Treasury will receive funding to continue carrying out the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 (DATA Act), which requires federal spending data be made available online and the development of standards for government financial data. The DATA Act was a landmark piece of legislation that introduced huge amounts of transparency into how the government spends its money, and implementation costs should absolutely be included in any budget going forward.
By all accounts, increases in government spending will likely be a tough sell for Republican majorities in the House and Senate. However, the these handful of expenditures on data issues—valuable investments in the nation’s health, competitiveness, and transparency—should be viewed by lawmakers as anything but wasteful. Congress should be careful to consider these benefits as they craft their own budget for 2016.
Image: The White House.