A slow revolution
Thomas R. Temin
Bureaucracies only rarely can muster the wherewithal to revolutionize themselves. That is why so many electronic-government efforts seem to defy success.
The resistance to transformation isn't exclusive to government because bureaucratic inertia isn't exclusive to government. Legions of companies lost market share and billions of dollars when they were slow to adopt needed and revolutionary change. Some disappeared altogether, usually because competitors acquired them.
At a recent conference on the West Coast, a senior career official, a veteran of many internal battles, lamented the fact that government has mostly failed to automate its grants processes, to establish multiapplication and multipurpose smart cards, or to build a governmentwide directory and search service.
Challenging conventional wisdom, he said, demands the creation of wholly new organizations with the power and budgets to build e-government structures.
After all, he pointed out, Amazon.com wasn't created by Barnes & Noble.
The transformation within government requires a gesture by Congress. For that to happen, e-government must become more visible as a national issue.
E-government is important to the policy end of government, but it simply doesn't rank up there with the Manhattan Project or mapping chromosomes. Online service is important to millions of citizens, but not as important as lower taxes or better schools.
The defunct National Partnership for Reinventing Government coincided with several pieces of reform legislation in the mid-1990s. None of those bills had the expected impact on agency operations or service, except to raise the possibility of a government transformed around cross-agency integration of data, online service delivery and greater efficiency.
Has the most opportune moment therefore passed, rendering e-government just another buzzword on a heap that includes grand design, total quality management and business process re-engineering?
Of course not'any more than the collapse of dot-com stocks means the online revolution will turn back. But it will take longer than expected.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director