Trimble: Funding our priorities

Earlier this month, Karen Evans testified before Congress on the progress of the e-government initiatives. She should be commended for her work in carrying the banner for e-government as the Office of Management and Budget's e-government and information technology administrator.

Despite her hard work, we are not demonstrating our support with our pocketbooks.

The fiscal 2005 budget request showcases the e-deficit, calling for just $5 million for the e-government fund. The Bush administration is counting on the General Services Administration to add $40 million in surplus revenues. That said, it is significant to note that in each of the past three years, Congress has approved only one-ninth of the requested funds. At this funding level, it is unrealistic to expect agencies to enact real change.

Is e-government worth fighting for? Clearly, citizens are voting with their mouse clicks. Between 2000 and 2002, the number of U.S. Internet users accessing government services online grew from 40 million to 71 million, according to the Pew Research Center. And those numbers are expected to rise.

So why the lack of funding? Although e-government has changed the way Americans interact with government, it has failed to develop a vested constituency. Ironically, this cross-boundary initiative has no home base.

Despite Evans' vision and leadership, it is unreasonable for her to fight for

e-government alone. As citizens and members of the IT community, we need to focus on building an e-government constituency if our country is to realize the full benefits of those initiatives.

Last year, the public and private sectors came together, committing to fund a public awareness program that promotes the requirement for enhanced

cybersecurity. The goal is to carry the message to more than 50 million Americans. Similarly, the public and private sectors should collaborate to demonstrate the tangible value that e-government brings to American citizens and businesses.

The potential benefits are huge. One need only look at a few achievements to see the power these initiatives have to transform the business of government:

Each month, FirstGov helps 6 million visitors find information about government services.

The Small Business Administration's BusinessLaw.gov accelerates the launching of new small businesses.

In the critical area of homeland security, the Homeland Security Department's DisasterHelp initiatives gives thousands of emergency managers essential information to protect and serve in times of crisis.

Programs such as these let constituents conduct necessary business with government more easily and efficiently. As a result, businesses spend less time on paperwork and more time focused on achieving critical business objectives. Citizens spend less work time visiting government offices and more time being productive. Government agencies spend less time on manual processes and more time serving the American public.

A public/private-sector collaboration effort should feature a broad-based public awareness campaign that communicates e-government's benefits and its vast promise. E-government has the potential to take cross-government collaboration from wishful thinking to reality. It's time to form a much-needed e-government constituency. By fighting for an upfront investment in e-government, we fight for the government we deserve.

Trimble is chief executive officer of EzGov Inc., provider of e-government software and solutions to governments and development partners. He can be reached at

ed.trimble@ezgov.com.

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