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Thursday, March 4, 2010

The title of this post is a secret. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I really enjoy what this administration is doing with open government.  I really appreciate the
FACA blog and the Recovery web sites.  I even enjoy seeing frequent communications Dr. Blumenthal sitting in my inbox.  But every now and then something happens that gives me heartburn.

Without much fanfare on February 19th our Federal Government announced Task Order 2697 entitled Recovery - Harmonization of Standards and Interoperability. The body of the announcement included this short blurb describing the request:

The purpose of this requirement is to obtain Contractor support services to harmonize standards and interoperability specifications to achieve ubiquitous implementation of standards, promote wider use of standards, and increased level of interoperability across the nation in health information technology (HIT). The overall purpose of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) programs is to facilitate and expand the secure, electronic movement and use of health information among organizations according to nationally recognized standards.

The response is due in 7 days (March 11th).  The announcement concludes with the following notice:

Interested vendors with a CIO-SP2i task order contract may find this solicitation on the NITAAC website at under Task Order 2697 titled, “Harmonization of Standards and Interoperability Specifications” (RFP 10-233-SOL-00072).

The contractor listing for CIO-SP2i task orders can be found on the NITACC web site. Because I don’t work for one of the companies that hold a CIO-SP2i Task Order contract with the NIH, I cannot read the Task order.  Nor apparently may any other member of the public that may be impacted by these activities.   As I read the brief description of the Task Order in this announcement, it signals the way that HITSP Standards Harmonization process is being replaced.  I certainly hope the task order includes a mechanism to engage with the members of the previous harmonization process.

I’m curious about a number of things.  What is in this contract?  Why was this method of contracting
chosen?  Who wrote the Task Order?  What are its objectives?  I’m sure I’ll learn more in 10 days, but why must I wait? 

I have to admit a great deal of concern about this particular task order.  The way that it has been done is not an open process.  There’s no way to disengage rumor from facts.  Even inside the ONC it is apparently difficult to find out what’s going on with this one.

All of what I’ve heard below are unsubstantiated rumors that have been reported to me over the last week.  This is simply an example of what happens when things are hidden, I don't know whether any one of them is true or not:

  • I’ve heard this process was needed because it was the only way to act quickly.
  • I’ve heard this process was used to shut out one contractor or another.
  • I’ve heard this process will provide ONC with much more control over the activities that are to be performed. 
  • I’ve heard that the task order contains requirements to utilize a standard developed by the Department of Justice to augment and/or replace work already done in ANSI/HITSP.
  • I've heard that subcontractors are under NDA with regard to the content of the task order.
I don't know what to believe and what not to believe.  I could get greatly agitated about any of these, but responding to unsubstantiated rumors is a pointless exercise.  I have no way to get at the facts, and I have better things to do with my time rather trying to react to something that may or may not be true.

I could do without the heartburn and lack of sleep this is causing me right now.  ONC has known the inception of the HITSP contract when it would expire.  They’ve had plenty of time to put out an open request for proposal through a normal bidding process to keep it going or to replace it.  There’s no reason to keep this a secret.  Starting what should be an open process this way is no way to engender any trust.

Oh, and the Post title is "Heartburn".