In E-Town, government doors are always open

In E-Town, government doors are always open

John Snyder, left, of the Arlington County, Va., Fire Department, and Vivek Kundra, center, director of the county's Network Services Division, demonstrate an aerial map of the Pentagon used by emergency workers on the front lines after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rising above the other booths at FOSE 2002 last month was the Mayberryesque clock tower of E-Town, billed as the town hall of the future, where citizens will transact business and find answers to their questions.

The Social Security Administration's storefront, at www.ssa.gov, now accepts on-line applications for retirement, spousal and disability benefits, said Taz Wicks-Simmon, a social insurance specialist. Visitors can estimate their retirement benefits through an online calculator and learn their expected retirement age.

The site protects their data through Secure Sockets Layer and 128-bit encryption, Wicks-Simmon said. For highly sensitive transactions, such as entering a bank account number for direct deposit of payments, users supply verifiable personal data.

SSA is piloting a program for password-protected transactions. The agency invited 200,000 beneficiaries to participate.

'With a password, you can submit a change of address online,' Wicks-Simmon said. About 70,000 people now use passwords for transactions, she said, 'but we're cautious because this information is sacrosanct.'

'A 600-lane highway'

Arlington County, Va., showed off its Institutional Network, a 12-strand-fiber network that will link county fire stations, libraries and community centers.

'We'll have somewhere between 25 and 30 Arlington County buildings hooked up by June,' information systems director Frances Rowell said.

I-Net is 30 times faster than the county's old leased T1 lines, Rowell said. 'It's like going from a one-lane highway to a 600-lane highway.'

John Snyder, management specialist for the Arlington County Fire Department, demonstrated an aerial photo-map used by emergency workers on the front lines after the terrorist attack on the Pentagon Sept. 11.

The county had contracted with Pictometry International Corp. of Rochester, N.Y., to take about 50 photos per square mile. 'We used the aerial map to get latitude and longitude coordinates for the Pentagon,' Snyder said. The map, for example, showed exactly how far the crash site was from nearby Arlington Boulevard.

'We used it to find fire hydrants, measure building heights, even figure out the area of parking lots,' Snyder said. 'You can't read what is written on the tombstones at Arlington Cemetery, but you can measure their height and depth.'

The county is running Pictometry under Microsoft Windows 98 and Windows XP. 'Our goal is to put this system into a notebook PC in every battalion chief's vehicle,' Snyder said. 'A rookie fireman still needs to know buildings on foot, but this is a great training tool.'

Also at E-Town, Steve Cappello, assessor for the District of Columbia, demonstrated new online tax programs. The city Web site, at www.dcgov.com, also lets visitors view in TIFF format all deeds filed since 1983.

Officials from nearby Fairfax County, Va., showed off their 250-layer geographic information system, used over the county's intranet by about 400 users in 30 agencies. The GIS, built using MapObjects Map Server from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., stores data in an Oracle database, GIS coordinator Ken Holbert said. It incorporates property data, school and political boundaries, and natural features such as streams.

E-services for everyone

From the other side of the Potomac River, the Montgomery County, Md., portal at eMontgomery.org showed off e-services such as an online apartment rental guide developed by IT specialist Chris Daniels using Microsoft Active Server Pages and Microsoft Access.

Federal services highlighted at E-Town included FirstGov.gov, the General Services Administration's federal portal; GSA's Government Without Boundaries, a collaborative effort of federal, state and local governments built on Extensible Markup Language; Students.gov, a financial assistance Web site sponsored by the Education Department; and Studentjobs.gov, a portal developed by Education and the Office of Personnel Management for high-school and college students looking for federal jobs.

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