Time goes by'fast

Time goes by'fast

Thomas R. Temin

Statistics can jolt you out of complacency'like looking at a clock and seeing it's later than you realized. I heard one such statistic the other day.

Harold F. Gracey Jr., chief information officer at the Veterans Affairs Department,
noted that the living veterans of the Vietnam War now outnumber those of World War II, who are dying at a rate of 1,500 per day.

To me, that statistic brought home vividly not only how rapidly the population age distribution is changing but also how much government services'and the systems supporting them'must change to keep up with citizens.

Gracey pointed out that in VA's surveys of its constituents, veterans say loud and clear that they want access to services online. Older Vietnam veterans are reaching retirement, although most of them still have between five and 20 years left to work, assuming most retire at age 65.

If your notion of the typical VA constituent is an elderly World War II or Korean War retiree in Arizona or Florida, your view is in radical need of revision. And for the Vietnam group, life online is going to be as commonplace as television was to those veterans' fathers and mothers. Besides, it's a mistake to assume that even the oldest veterans prefer traditional walk-in services. My father, who served for the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, recently made his first online stock trade, and he regularly checks patents online.

The point is that the move to online delivery of government services is imperative'not as a response to a presidential directive or because doing so cuts costs, but because that's what people want.

For too long and at too many agencies, cost has been the foremost driver of online services.

This isn't to say that agencies are promoting online services only as cost-cutting measures. Every chief information officer and IRM program manager ritually recites the fact that people don't want to stand in line for service. But the only way most agencies can secure resources to build online systems is to promise cost savings.

For most agencies, when it comes to online services, it's later than you think.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Email: editor@gcn.com

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