Truly interactive Web sites might soon be a government staple

transactions via the Internet may be closer than they appear in the rearview mirror.

If pending legislation passes, agencies could have as little as 18 months to come up
with a plan for placing their everyday business forms online, as well as legally accepting
those forms with digital signatures. Any such plan would have to be implemented within
five years.

At least five bills in the past year have taken a stab at putting government
transactions onto the Internet. The one that has momentum at the moment is S 2107, also
known as the Government Paperwork Elimination Act.

Its thrust is to give citizens access to all government services from their home

Proposed by Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.), the bill has passed the Senate Committee on
Commerce, Science and Transportation and is awaiting a full Senate vote.

A spokeswoman in Abraham’s office said it’s not certain the bill will come up
for a vote before the end of the year. But getting through the committee hurdle is a big
step for a bill that takes the right approach toward broadening the government’s Net
interaction with the public.

One big plus: The bill does not dictate how this should be done. Agencies are free to
explore and integrate commercial applications or develop their own.

My bet is that the bill will pass, unless it’s loaded down with silly amendments.
You can view it at

To track status, visit the Library of Congress’ Thomas Bill Summary and Status
server at
Enter S 2107 in the Bill/Amendment Number search form—it’s No. 3 on a list of
search choices.

So how do agencies get a head start on their planning?

For background information, read the White House Framework for Global Electronic
Commerce document at

It doesn’t specifically define how government should interact with the public. But
it does stress that government should “support and enforce a predictable, minimalist,
consistent and simple legal environment for commerce.”

For real-life ideas, look at how some agencies buy online. Many of their current
e-commerce schemes could apply to documents that need digital signatures and secure
transmission, though that doesn’t necessarily help with integrating Net transactions
into agency business processes.

The Defense Information Systems Agency, Defense Logistics Agency, General Services
Administration, and National Institute of Standards and Technology are working with
CommerceNet, a vendor consortium, on the Catalog Interoperability Pilot [GCN, Aug. 10, Page 3]. CIP aims to present a single face
instead of multiple standalone electronic catalog interfaces.

See the proposal in the Projects & Pilots section at Another good resource, at, outlines
Vice President Gore’s Access America plan. There are examples and contact points for
many types of online transactions.

Finally, bear in mind that this is real, true electronic data interchange—a far
more complex undertaking than posting Adobe Acrobat versions of your printed forms. Such
forms don’t let citizens interact with your agency in an electronic format, nor can
they feed data back automatically into your business processes. To understand the scope
and demands of EDI and all the items you need to consider, visit

Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for
Cahners Business Information Inc. E-mail him at

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