In February, President Barack Obama ordered federal agencies to reduce regulatory and administrative burdens on state, local and tribal governments, giving them greater flexibility to modernize and streamline services. State and local officials say the move is a welcome change at a time when states are searching for more ways to cut costs.

Obama has ordered federal agencies to identify unnecessary, inconsistent or overlapping regulations that prevent state and local governments from using tax dollars efficiently. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is overseeing the project, and agencies have until August to work with state and local governments to identify regulatory or administrative requirements that could be streamlined, reduced or abolished, and report their findings to the OMB. The OMB then will recommend ways to eliminate low-priority or duplicative record keeping, streamline and reduce planning and reporting requirements, and facilitate cost-efficient modernization of information systems. Many federal entities stopped taking public input regarding their preliminary regulatory review plans online and in open meetings by May 12, but some may reopen the public comment period before August and will put notices on their individual websites if they do.

The new policy could help information technology specialists hold down costs and implement enterprise strategies, such as consolidation and shared services, says Kyle Schafer, West Virginia's chief technology officer and president of the Lexington, Ky.-based National Association of State Chief Information Officers. "A lot of these federal grants or programs require that agencies buy hardware to run specific applications on," Schafer says. "[However,] we can house applications on existing hardware that's already here, fully take advantage of the hardware that's already in place, and not spend those incremental dollars."

In Maryland, health service providers must observe myriad federal confidentiality regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, on top of state rules to access client records, says Uma Ahluwalia, director of the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, clients who require multiple services simultaneously — such as mental health, housing and substance abuse treatment — must give their written consent for each service to allow service providers to access their records. That requirement often keeps primary care physicians, social workers and counselors from working together, Ahluwalia says.

Having a single consent form would enhance service providers' efforts to coordinate plans for the treatment and delivery of services, Ahluwalia says. "It would enable us to create an integrated, team-building approach," she says.

Gail Short is a Birmingham, Ala.-based freelance writer.

Know your federal regulations

Anyone wishing to learn more about and comment on federal regulations in general can go to www.regulations.gov.