Transactions are a precursor to achieving transformation

OMB's Norman Lorentz

Can agencies deliver?

The Government Paperwork Elimination Act, which requires agencies to provide the means for citizens and businesses to submit documents electronically, was signed into law five years ago. Now, its October deadline looms.

Since the passage of GPEA, government has proven highly proficient at making information available online. And, admittedly, that's nothing to scoff at.

'Government is making huge strides,' said Jim Tozzi, who during the Reagan administration served as the first deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. 'People now have more information than they've ever had before.'

But everyone agrees that putting information or forms online is only the beginning.

'In 1998, the way we thought about doing this was putting up tons of these e-form things so that people could log on, fill in their information and submit it,' said Jeanette Thornton, OMB's e-authentication portfolio manager. 'We've evolved beyond that.'

E-government is now high atop the President's Management Agenda. And the stage is set for the next wave of e-government.

In a recent survey for the Council for Excellence in Government, conducted by Hart-Teeter Research, 60 percent of Americans who use the Internet said they want to do business with the government online. Three-quarters believe the benefits of e-government will expand in the next five to 10 years.

New term needed?

Some observers, such as Harvard professor Jerry Mechling, director for strategic computing and telecommunications in the private sector at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, think the term electronic government is already becoming a bit antiquated.

'What we have called e-government has been predominantly to offer access over the Internet so that people didn't physically have to come to government offices,' Mechling said.

Mechling's point is that the term fails to capture the magnitude of what government leaders are trying to do: fundamentally transform government. And they see electronic interaction with government as an instrument of that transformation.

Mark Forman, OMB's administrator for e-government and IT and a driving force behind the White House's e-government agenda, agreed that the most significant aspect of transformation is in how the government works. And it is government employees, rather than citizens, who will see the most dramatic changes. But as a descriptive term, he said, e-government is alive and well.

Portals for the people

'You can't say we're focusing our resources on government,' Forman said. 'You need to say we are focusing our resources on e-government. People understand that.'

People also want their online interactions with government to be effortless and secure.

That's where Web portals come in. Portals are becoming the friendly face of e-government. They also help out on the back end.

'I view portals as the user interface,' said Air Force CIO John Gilligan. 'A portal provides a common look and feel and a way of organizing information. ... From a technology standpoint, I see that as the core technology.'

Ultimately, e-government aims to make the citizen the focal point of everything government does.

'If there is an attraction to me personally about e-government, it's not the technology and it's not the economies of it'it's the notion of giving government back to the citizen,' said Ron Miller, assistant administrator for e-government at the Small Business Administration. 'You're eliminating a lot of the barriers that in my view have kept citizens from being engaged and involved in their government.'

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