Tech Talk: Federal Tech Team Still in Place

The following is excerpted from NextGov:

An Obama-era technology troubleshooting team has continued under President Donald Trump, maintaining projects some experts suspected would be shuttered in the new administration.

The U.S. Digital Service, a task force of professionals recruited from the private sector, was established to tackle some of the federal government’s highest profile and highest risk technology challenges. Today, it has satellite operations in seven federal agencies, including Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services.

The team reports to the Office of Management and Budget and is now part of the American Technology Council, a group of business leaders that President Trump taps for advice on federal problems. The Digital Service (USDS) also works with the White House Office of American Innovation, which is led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and is aiming to modernize government technology.

Among the recent USDS priorities, according to its report to Congress:

  • A variety of projects for Veterans Affairs – building and deploying a system to process claims for disability compensation; piloting a tool to allow lawyers and judges to review evidence from those claims; and launching Vets.gov, an online portal consolidating thousands of federal benefit sites for veterans.
  • Collaborating with U.S. Citizenship and Innovation Services to digitize the immigration paperwork processing system.
  • Shoring up the federal purchasing process, including an education program to train contracting officers on buying digital IT services.

The USDS web site notes that in support of its goals, “We recruit top technologists for term-limited tours of duty with the federal government. We hope to encourage a tradition of public service in the technology industry that will support the ongoing improvement of government digital services.”

Bottom line: There’s no doubt that there are plenty of opportunities for improvement when it comes to government and technology. Let’s hope USDS can play a positive role in that mission.

Details Announced for Chamber’s 2017 D.C. Fly-in

Hoosier business leaders can discuss public policy with their congressional members during the Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s annual D.C. Fly-in event on September 27-28.

The Washington gathering offers the opportunity for business leaders to meet with members of Indiana’s congressional delegation and let the lawmakers know how policies and bills being debated on the national stage will impact the state’s economy back home.

A highlight of the agenda: Sens. Joe Donnelly and Todd Young will lead a policy discussion following a dinner on the event’s opening night.

Day two includes a breakfast program that will feature Marc Lotter, special assistant to the President and press secretary to Vice President Mike Pence. Lotter is a native Hoosier with decades of experience in Indiana politics and was also Pence’s press secretary through the 2016 campaign and transition.

Group visits to congressional offices will take place after the morning program.

Zimmer Biomet is the dinner sponsor. Allegion is the cocktail reception sponsor. Build Indiana Council is the Legislative Briefing Sponsor.

“Zimmer Biomet is proud to be a long-time sponsor of the Indiana Chamber’s D.C. Fly-in. This is a unique opportunity to interact with members and staff of the Indiana Congressional delegation. There is no better way to discuss a wide range of policy issues affecting the Hoosier business community and to see firsthand what is happening on Capitol Hill,” says Chris Cerone, vice president of global government affairs for Zimmer Biomet of Warsaw.

Register for the D.C. Fly-in online or by calling customer service at (800) 824-6885. Cost is $199 per person, with group discounts available. Each attendee is responsible for securing travel arrangements. Discounted hotel rooms are available for Indiana Chamber Fly-in guests at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill.

Event sponsors are AT&T, The Boeing Company, Duke Energy, The Kroger Co., Old National Bank and Wabash Valley Power.

Donnelly Urges Market Stability on Health Care; Association Plans in the Offing?

Senator Joe Donnelly is urging the Trump administration to make a public commitment to continue cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays.

Early in the week, Donnelly continued his push for stability in the insurance markets in a letter to Hoosier Seema Verma – the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) – who he partnered with to help establish Indiana’s bipartisan Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP) 2.0 program through the Affordable Care Act. Donnelly’s letter comes as President Trump has declined to commit to continue making CSR payments. Donnelly says if these aren’t maintained, it could cause people to pay at least 15-20% more for health care.

In the letter to Verma, Donnelly wrote: “…It is our job to protect American families from unnecessary increases in the cost of health care, particularly those within our control. That is why I am very concerned by recent comments and actions made by the administration demonstrating a willingness and desire to undermine the health care system, even at the expense of the health and economic security of millions of Americans. These efforts to create uncertainty are harming working people and are already having a detrimental effect in Indiana.

“As we work to improve our health care system, we must first do no harm … The administration has the ability to help provide market stability today, and I respectfully request that the administration make a strong public commitment to continuing the CSR payments so that Congress can work together in a bipartisan fashion in an effort to reduce costs, expand access and strengthen the American health care system.”

Additionally, Donnelly said he’s recently heard from several insurance companies which provide coverage to Hoosiers – including two that have recently left the market – that cited lack of certainty, particularly as it relates to the CSR payments, as a key reason for increasing prices or leaving the market.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said this week that CSR payments were, at this point, bailing out a failed law. She also said no final decision had been made by the President on continuing them.

Read Donnelly’s full letter to Verma.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is making a case to President Trump to use his executive authority to permit associations and organizations to offer group health insurance plans. Paul says this could impact tens of millions currently in the individual marketplace. The White House has yet to comment on the possibility. This action would be very helpful to Indiana Chamber members and we have previously discussed this positive policy proposal with members of the Indiana delegation.

Thoughts on Sen. Luke Kenley’s Pending Retirement

Earlier this summer, Sen. Luke Kenley (R-Noblesville) announced his plans to retire from the Indiana Senate on September 30 after a quarter century representing constituents in Hamilton County.

Kenley is the longtime chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which is responsible for that chamber’s budget-writing proposal.

Governor Eric Holcomb said of the news: “Few understand the intricacies of Indiana’s finances like Luke Kenley. He has been an essential state-budget architect for years and years, and he is widely respected for both his expertise and his no-nonsense approach to lawmaking. Even though he is moving on to the next chapter in his life, many will continue to seek his counsel – including me. So, even though he won’t be in the Senate Chamber come January, and he’ll have a little more time to spend at his ranch in Texas, he will continue to contribute to our state’s success in countless ways.”

Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar, himself a Noblesville resident and constituent of Kenley’s, offered these remarks:

“We were sorry to learn that Sen. Kenley has chosen not to serve his full term; it is undoubtedly a loss for Senate Republicans and the collective body. Senator Kenley brought his vast experience as a lawyer, judge and small business owner to his service and has been an outstanding and model public servant.

“He has been a strong conservative force on fiscal policy matters and that has served our state very well. Senator Kenley has also proven to be an attentive legislator and during his tenure was involved in virtually every important piece of policy and legislation to move Indiana forward and enhance our prosperity.

“It’s been my pleasure and honor to work with him over these many years. I’m proud to call Luke Kenley my friend and wish him the best in his retirement.”

On a related note, Sen. Ryan Mishler (R-Bremen) was appointed in mid-July to take over chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Legislation Favorable to Drug, Medical Device Manufacturers Passes Senate, Heads to President

Legislation which passed the Senate Thursday ensures that drug and medical devices can move to the market quicker. Manufacturers of these products would pay higher user fees and the revenue raised would help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) review the items in a more expedited process. The law governing this process was set to expire by September 30, so it was imperative that the Senate act before members left for their August recess.

The legislation passed the Senate 94-1 with both Indiana senators supporting the legislation. The bill was not amended in the Senate and so therefore it now heads to the President for final signature.

The Indiana Chamber advocated for the passage of this bill during the Hoosiers Work for Health summit in July.

The legislation aligns with the Chamber’s legislative policy regarding the FDA: “The FDA has an important responsibility to make sure consumers get expeditious access to safe and effective products. Thus, the Indiana Chamber supports a well-resourced FDA, especially in the area of drugs and medical devices, through appropriated funds and user fees (tied to specific and measurable performance requirements for the FDA).”

IODD Now Accepting Applications for Defense Industry Adjustment Grant Program

The Indiana Office of Defense Development (IODD) is now accepting applications for the Indiana Defense Industry Adjustment grant program. An IODD release has more:

This grant program, funded by the U.S.Department of Defense (DOD) Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA), assists small and mid-sized companies reduce their dependency on DOD procurement activity by helping them to diversify into new markets. By diversifying their revenue streams, potential cuts or changes in federal defense spending will have less detrimental impact on Indiana-based contractors. The grant helps companies withstand reductions, allowing them to increase economic activity and create jobs in the State of Indiana.

“This is a great opportunity for defense firms in Indiana to diversify their revenue streams and strengthen their business as a whole,” said Brandi Hughes, IODD Director of Operations .

Companies are eligible for up to $50,000 of consulting services in the following four areas: strategic planning, strategic communications, lean product development, and quality certifications. There are no cost requirements for participating companies other than time. Companies must meet the following four requirements to apply:(1) have been in operation in Indiana for a minimum of one year prior to application; (2) have at least one full-time employee; (3) be a defense contractor or subcontractor to a defense contractor; and (4) have experienced a loss of revenue due to reduced DoD expenditures.

IODD has engaged kglobal, a strategic communications firm with extensive OEA grant experience in three other states, to spearhead consulting and diversification efforts under the grant program. kglobal is working in collaboration with several other service providers, four of which are Indiana-based companies; Simon Everett, Indiana Strategic Research Group, Maple Hill Engineering, Mary Romeo and Associates, and QAI.

To inquire about the program, contact Randy DeCleene, kglobal Partner, at randy.decleene@kglobal.com or 202-295-7931.

Federal Health Care – Republicans Can’t Do It Alone

Progress on health care reform by Senate Republicans came to a halt very early this morning as the so-called “skinny repeal” of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) narrowly failed 49-51. All Democrats were joined in their opposition by Republican senators Susan Collins (Maine), John McCain (Arizona) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

While Collins and Murkowski’s votes came as no real surprise, the GOP hope was for McCain to allow the bill to proceed to an expected conference committee for further work. But in McCain’s statement explaining his decision, he mentions the lack of complete certainty provided by House Speaker Paul Ryan that the bill wouldn’t be voted on as-is and passed by the House instead – as well as his opposition to voting on what he considered to be a “shell of a bill.”

Essentially, this outcome means the only path to reform now would appear to be a bipartisan approach, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) alluded to in his remarks following the defeat.

Indiana’s Democratic senator, Joe Donnelly, has been pushing for this path all along and reiterated those thoughts after today’s vote:

“I still believe that by working together we can improve our health care system and, at a minimum, Congress and the administration should do no harm to the millions of Americans’ whose health and economic well-being are at stake. I share the frustration of Hoosiers and Americans who are tired of partisan proposals that fail to address issues with our existing health care system and the continued legislative uncertainty that is undermining the insurance markets.

“We should do the hard and necessary work to gather the input of doctors, nurses, hospitals and patients, and work in a bipartisan manner to make coverage more affordable and accessible for Hoosier and American families.”

Of note: Donnelly attended a dinner Wednesday evening with a bipartisan group of senators to discuss ways to work together on health care. In May, Donnelly also had a similar meeting.

Our junior senator, Todd Young, voted for the “skinny repeal” bill as “another step towards relieving Hoosiers and millions of Americans from the burdens of Obamacare. Too many Hoosiers have been left with too few options and rising costs. It is more important than ever that we keep our promise to them and fundamentally reform our health care system.”

Like Donnelly, Young is eager to strengthen the ACA and work in a bipartisan fashion to get that done.

“Going forward, I will participate in hearings in the HELP (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) Committee and continue to work with my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, to come up with a solution that provides long-term stability to our health care system and gives each and every Hoosier the opportunity to access quality and affordable insurance.”

Additionally, Young has previously looked for ways to find common ground. In the spring, he sent a letter to all Democratic senators urging them to share their views on what’s working and what’s not with the ACA.

Indeed, there are aspects of the ACA that both Democrats and Republicans have acknowledged as problematic; the medical device tax, which needs to be permanently repealed, is among them. So hopefully these areas can serve as a starting point for crafting a bipartisan solution.

From the Indiana Chamber’s perspective, the reality is that the ACA has not made life easier or costs cheaper for businesses (or many Hoosiers).

Separately, the ACA’s pending collapse – with insurers pulling out – isn’t surprising based on its inherently flawed assumptions. Unfortunately, very little of the congressional debate so far has focused on shoring up the ACA at its core, or how to put forth a replacement program that is stronger foundationally. Hopefully, that will occur in future discussions.

Indiana Delegation Talks Affordable Care Act Repeal

The vote to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) couldn’t get off the ground in the U.S. Senate. But President Trump, Vice President Pence and many members of Congress instead have called for a simple repeal of the ACA – with a replacement coming at a later date.

Congressman Luke Messer (IN-06) is on board with that process. “Hoosiers are sick and tired of endless debate on the Obamacare repeal bill, and the failure of Congress to act. This is D.C. politics as usual, and exactly why Americans sent the President to Washington to shake things up and get something done.

“We’ve had more than enough time to deliver on this promise to Americans, who have sent us here for three election cycles to repeal this failed law. I agree with President Trump that we must repeal Obamacare NOW and then work together on a plan to ensure Hoosiers get the health care they want and deserve.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Donnelly urged bipartisanship in finding common ground. “The proposed Senate health care bill would have been disastrous for Hoosiers. The latest plan to repeal without any replacement is downright reckless, playing politics with the health and economic well-being of millions of American families.

“It is time to do the hard work of forging a bipartisan bill to strengthen our current health care system, so that we can reduce costs for Hoosier families, continue to protect people with pre-existing conditions, and preserve the good work states like Indiana have done to expand affordable health care. The American people are counting on us to take a thoughtful approach together, and I urge the Senate to take this path in the coming days.”

Congressman Larry Bucshon (IN-08) had a different take. “Obamacare is collapsing and as a result patients across the country are at risk as premiums skyrocket and insurers flee the exchanges. In Indiana, premiums have increased an average of 74% and two of our state’s four insurers recently announced their departure from the Obamacare exchanges. Hoosiers are being priced out of the insurance market, if they can find insurance at all. This is not the health care Americans were promised by President Obama and congressional Democrats when they passed Obamacare, and certainly not what they deserve.

“To me, this is personal. I spent more than a decade as a surgeon before coming to Congress. This is about the well-being of my constituents who are struggling to access quality, affordable health care under Obamacare. That’s why I made a promise to repeal and replace this failed law to help drive down costs, expand access, and get the federal government out of decisions that should be left up to patients and their doctors. The House did its job to fulfill our promise. I’m extremely disappointed that, thus far, the Senate has failed to live up to its commitment to the American people. It’s time for the Senate to act.”

Chamber Unveils Podcast: EchoChamber is Now Live!

EchoChamber is a new informal discussion with Indiana leaders in business, education, technology, politics and much more. We’ll begin with the following three outstanding guests in as many weeks before reverting to a biweekly format:

  • Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of the Lumina Foundation and one of the foremost minds in the world on education and workforce policy and initiatives
  • Lee Hamilton, an 17-term U.S. representative who remains a thoughtful voice on state, national and global issues
  • Graham Richard, the innovative one-time Fort Wayne mayor who is now guiding efforts at a national organization called Advanced Energy Economy

Subscribe at iTunes, GooglePlay or wherever you get your podcasts to be notified about the latest interview.

Government Book Getting August Update

Here Is Your Indiana Government: 2017-18 Edition is the most comprehensive guide to governance in the Hoosier state. Since its development in 1942, this book has been used by communities and hundreds of thousands of students (from sixth grade to college level) to learn about Indiana and how Hoosiers govern themselves. A variety of local government and agency updates will be included in the new edition.

Topics include:

  • Interesting facts about Indiana (demographics, state song, motto, origin of county names, notable natives, etc.)
  • Historical highlights of Indiana government development
  • State government (explanation of its departments/agencies and their functions, updated budget information, contact information including phone numbers and web addresses)
  • County government (origins of the counties, the elective county administrative officials and their function, council function, powers of the counties, services)
  • Cities and towns (creation, city classifications, incorporated towns, municipal government, public works)
  • Township government (divisions, schools, boards)

Here Is Your Indiana Government is sponsored by Questa Education Foundation and will ship in August.

Large quantity discount pricing is available as follows:

  • 1 to 9 copies: $21.50 each
  • 10 to 25 copies: $14.50 each
  • 26 to 50 copies: $12.00 each
  • 51 to 75 copies: $10.50 each
  • 76 to 100 copies: $9.50 each
  • 101 or more: $9.00 each

Call (800) 824-6885 with questions or if you’re interested in purchasing the book as an ePub (online edition).