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E-government strategies start at the center

Robert J. Sherry

Many states are working on delivering electronic government to their residents. But are they going about it the right way?

E-government has the potential to improve service and the dissemination of information and can reduce the costs of governing.

Yet e-government means different things to different people. I'll use the definition offered by a recent Brown University study: the delivery of information and services through the Internet or other digital means. The study concluded that state and local jurisdictions generally are at an embryonic stage in adapting the Internet for government use [GCN/State & Local, October, Page 37]. Few states have sites with the depth and breadth of services available on federal Web sites, the study found.

It also found, not surprisingly, that large states generally are ahead of small states in the extent and quality of e-government services. Texas, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania and Illinois ranked at the top, while Nevada, South Dakota, New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island brought up the rear. Curiously, California, one of the focal points of the electronic revolution, ranked 18th.

E-government operations must continue to evolve. Citizens'voters'are demanding better online services. How can states, particularly smaller ones, devote the resources necessary to meet their citizens' needs?

In many cases, states could help themselves by centralizing e-government activities. Centralization offers several benefits for programs and procurement, makes e-government easy to use and saves money on procurement costs.

States such as Connecticut, Nebraska and Washington have adopted a centralized program approach that more states should follow. For smaller states, consolidating procurement practices could be the key to efficient e-government. By developing joint purchasing and electronic-mall programs, states can help foster the cooperation needed to develop and implement e-commerce strategies critical to fulfilling the promises made by government officials.

Centralization should not stop with a state's executive branch. The Brown study noted that the legislative and judicial branches of state governments have been slow to embrace e-government. This is unfortunate. Legislatures and courts can do their citizens a great service by making pending legislation, existing laws and published opinions available online. Every state's e-government strategy should take this into account.

Robert J. Sherry is a partner in the San Francisco office of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart LLP, representing information technology clients in dealings with government agencies.

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