Put paper in its place: a permanent round file, contends the furry one

No matter how diligently he adheres to the touch-each-page-only-once mantra, the Rat
still finds himself needing a backhoe to dig out his lead-lined cubicle every three

Electrons the furry one can deal with. Molecules, he can’t. So the cyberrodent
seems like a natural when agency brass wanted to detail someone to look into electronic
payments and transactions.

Every agency head knows the government could save billions by handling benefits
statements, invoices and payments electronically.

Trouble is, the technology seems to be passing government by. When the Rat
ventured out to the wild Midwest, he found himself on a plane with Health Care Financing
Administration types busy trying to figure out the ANSI X12 transaction set for electronic
data interchange. The whiskered one, listening from a row over, joined in.

Never mind that the standards involved in the health care industry’s version of
EDI sounded more like etiquette suggestions than hard-and-fast rules. Standard EDI is a
technology dinosaur. Now that Web systems are plowing into the marketplace, why squeeze in
a standard that runs more comfortably on something with vacuum tubes?

At the airport, the Rat’s keen ears overheard a couple of capitalists sorting
through their own electronic commerce problem: how to present bills. It sounded a lot like
the Rat’s own public-sector dilemma.

Then the wire-biter’s Canadian contacts told him about electronic billing projects
run by big power companies in the Great Northland.

They’ve apparently been using software from a small transborder—as in Ann
Arbor, Mich., and Toronto—company called BlueGill Technologies Inc.

The BlueGill software pulls information straight out of the print stream from statement
and billing programs and sucks it into a database for access via the Web or other

Of course, the Canadians have one advantage over the United States when it comes to
e-commerce: a central payment system. Every company that bills more than a certain amount
in Canada is assigned a billing identification number, and payments can be assigned to any
registered biller through any bank.

No check, no stamp, no paper.

That makes it darned easy to do business electronically north of the border. But it
might be too much to expect the U.S. government to do something similar.

“After all,” mumbled the router rodent as he shoved aside another ream of
agency forms, “paperwork reduction is an oxymoron here.”

The Federal Reserve is more concerned, it seems, with keeping the economy from
overheating than with streamlining a networked economy. Then there’s the little issue
of interstate banking laws.

But moving e-dollars around the economy is the last thing on the Rat’s mind. He
merely wants to make his agency’s document transactions turn from paper into
electrons. The savings on laser printer toner alone would save his department enough
to … well, to buy more toner for the other paper pushers.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad
packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@gcn.com.

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