Take e-gov to the max, panel says

Take e-gov to the max, panel says

OMB's Mark Forman says agencies must take advantage of the Web's potential.

The next step in electronic government will be to transform it into an 'e-democracy,' in which the public uses the Web to get direct access to the government, Mark Forman last month told the Council for Excellence in Government.

The Internet allows communication between communities and the government on a larger scale than has ever been possible, said Forman, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget for information technology and e-government.

'Communication is really the heart of e-government'communication between citizens and the government,' he said in a keynote address at the council's Imagine E-Government Awards luncheon in Washington.

What must happen for e-government to evolve, he said, is that agencies must learn to take full advantage of the Web's potential.

'As we move to the Web, we now have two-way, real-time communication between communities,' Forman said. 'E-government has got to be bigger than using the Web to get information or pay your taxes.'

The Web offers citizens a means of ensuring fairness and accountability within government, Common Cause president Scott Harshbarger said during a panel discussion that followed Forman's address.

'This is our last hope for people to reclaim their democracy,' Harshbarger said, 'for people to make sure their voice is heard in the halls of Congress.'

Too many government officials and citizens still consider e-government a matter of technology rather than a mainstream issue and therefore might not fully support it, said panelist Jerry Mechling, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

E-gov love

The nation is still discovering how important e-government can be, and the process won't get its due until its value is fully understood, he said.

Mechling joked that the commitment to e-government is analogous to a ham and egg sandwich. 'The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed,' he said. 'We need to be committed.'

Education is the area of greatest Web potential, said two state officials on the panel, Kentucky chief information officer Aldona Valicenti and Arun Baheti, director of e-government for California.

Valicenti noted that Kentucky has wired every classroom in the state to the Internet. Baheti described distance-learning initiatives that California offers through its university system.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to e-government is financial, the panelists said. Valicenti said the country would need to spend a lot of money to install the infrastructure necessary to offer e-government nationally.

Mechling said spending $100 million over three years on e-government, as the Bush administration plans to do, is 'not nearly enough.'

If some projects seem risky, he said, they should be considered within a portfolio of safer efforts, much like a stock portfolio. A few risky projects are necessary, Mechling said, because they often offer the greatest reward.

Baheti warned against overplanning e-government projects, saying that the pace of advancing technology can overturn even the best-laid plans if agencies look too far ahead. He recommended working on smaller projects that could be readily completed, then build on their success. The bottom line, he said, is to focus on action rather than planning.

'At some point, you've just got to do it instead of talking about it,' Baheti said.

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