Can a Virginia hack scuttle health IT reform?

The Virginia hack is important because the Northrop-Grumman agreement compromised by it was negotiated by Aneesh Chopra, then the state's secretary of technology, now President Obama's CTO.

An April hack attack against a Virginia database managed by Northrop-Grumman is giving health IT a black eye right when it doesn't need it.

The Associated Press reports that prescriptions for powerful painkillers are not being given by some doctors who can't check the database, whose aim is to prevent drug abuse.

The 35 million name database was accessed illegally in late April.

The Virginia hack is important because the Northrop-Grumman agreement compromised by it was negotiated by Aneesh Chopra, then the state's secretary of technology, now President Obama's CTO.

The idea behind the $2 billion, 10-year agreement is to create a "cloud" environment for all the state's computing needs, centralizing all functions under one department.

In an interview with The New York Times after his appointment Chopra emphasized his support for entrepreneurship, and did not mention the centralized contract, which seems in spirit to be more akin to the Bush technology policy than the Obama Administration's.

But the Obama team has warmed to several Bush-era policies, and maybe all this talk about open source and modular systems, too, is just rhetoric.

In any case Virginia officials are now asking hard questions about the Northrop-Grumman contract, and perhaps national reporters should too.

There is a basic philosophical difference between the closed world of a single-source government contract and the open, competitive environment health IT needs. We need to know on which side of the divide the CTO stands.