That Was Then, This is Now
That was Then, This is Now
Technology Makes a Difference in Government
Ten years ago, documents such as contracts, applications, and forms were paper based, postal mail and fax machines were the fastest ways to ensure documents reached their destinations, cell phones were luxury items that few could afford, and the Internet was a government-operated communications network open only to scientists and government employees.
Today, we are in the midst of a technological revolution. Everything from conducting financial transactions and accessing driving directions, to relaying data off-site and viewing video broadcasts, is now commonplace and many of us probably can’t even imagine life without e-mail.
Last October, the 2002 Government Paperwork Elimination Act (GPEA) signed by the Bush administration reached an important one-year milestone—the cut-off date requiring the millions of pages of documents generated by federal agencies, as well as any transactions, be made available in electronic form. The goal of the GPEA is to improve customer service and governmental efficiency through the use of information technology.
Beyond just putting forms on-line, technology has limitless applications for government agencies, applications empowering both the agency and the citizens that are served.
Getting Back to Basics Using the Old and the New
By offering basic government services online, the Internet provides another venue to meet the needs of citizens.
Citizens today view the Internet as essential in their everyday lives. From paying bills to shopping for goods and services, they have come to accept conducting basic business transactions on the Internet, and their government agencies are no exception. In turn, government agencies are making efforts to provide more and more of their services online.
The State of Michigan is a prime example of how citizens have benefited from the state’s egovernment initiatives. There, the online portal enables contractors and citizens to apply and pay for simple permits, schedule inspections, and print completed permits. Applications are approved and projects are completed more quickly with a complete online system, making the process easier for citizens and public officials.
Technology not only gives citizens better information access, but it enables government staff to better direct their efforts.
Implementation of e-government initiatives and paperless government ultimately benefits citizens not only in less wait time and better access, but funds can be directed to other areas. Governments’ first priority is to address citizen needs, which includes providing relevant, meaningful information. By taking advantage of online services offered by local and state departments, citizens make the business of government that much more efficient.
A jurisdiction’s Web site can save citizens valuable time by providing comprehensive information, increased functionality, and proper accessibility. By providing basic services online, satisfied citizens will enable government employees to focus on more critical issues.
Information and resource collaboration among government agencies continues to improve and become the norm, not the exception.
FirstGov.gov, the official U.S. government gateway to all government information, provides a portal to government services at the federal, state, and local levels. From finding government benefits and grants to renewing a driver’s license, www.FirstGov.gov offers access to those interested in doing business with the government. Vital government resources are available to citizens whenever they are needed—today and in the future.
Regardless of your views on Homeland Security, the fact of the matter is that security planning and emergency response begin at the local and state levels. In spite of limited funding, resources including expanded law enforcement and security screening measures have succeeded because of jurisdictional collaboration.
Benefits of Technology are Limited Only by our Creativity and Imagination
The threat of infectious diseases can effectively be monitored and dealt with through new technological advances. Information from hospitals, health agencies, school districts, and 911 call centers can be combined to provide early detection alerts and strategic planning to minimize the threat of a potential outbreak.
Whether it is allocating resources, communicating with residents, or tracking the number of damaged homes and roadways, the Southern California wildfires demonstrated the monumental task of providing effective emergency response to citizens following a major disaster. Using wireless and GIS technologies, Glendale, CA, has an emergency response system that speeds up damage assessment and recovery planning after a disaster.
Other vital areas where technology can play an important role include water management, power management, and emergency services. From ensuring water quality and power flow, to fire code enforcement and building maintenance, technology can help protect the resources and services many of us take for a granted.
Especially during these strained budgetary times, technology can help stretch tight budgets even further while cutting costs. At the same time, innovative approaches can play an important role in meeting the needs of citizens who want easy and convenient access to government services.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Robert P. Lee is President and CEO of Accela, Inc. Accela develops enterprise software solutions for local and state government, including Web-based, wireless, and GIS applications. Contact him at [email protected].
—Accela, an enterprise software solution provider: Visit www.accela.com.