Courts can cover IT budget cuts

A Harvard professor tells court officials to consider capital funds, performance contracts and user fees to pay for tech projects.

National Center for State Courts

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Like other government agencies in a tough economy, judicial courts are not immune from information technology budget cuts, but courts can emulate successful financial practices to improve services, a Harvard University educator told a conference audience.

Courts should look at using capital funds, performance contracts and user fees, said Jerry Mechling, who teaches public policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

"Those three ideas — if you're not doing them already — take a look at them," said Mechling, keynote speaker Oct. 29 at the National Center for State Courts' eighth annual technology conference.

Massachusetts state government has successfully used capital budgets to pay for some IT, though it may not be appropriate for all projects, he said.

Under performance contracts, vendors carry out IT projects designed to save money and are paid a portion of the estimated savings.

User fees are most often used by executive branch agencies, which usually add $1 to $2 to online transactions by residents and businesses, such as renewing a driver's license.

Mechling last year helped form the E-Government Executive Education Project, a public/private partnership designed to teach government officials about electronic government. Five years ago, he also created the Harvard Policy Group on Network-Enabled Services and Government, a group of 41 officials and experts who explore the impact of technology on government. The policy group published a series of reports titled "Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World."

Court officials should analyze a dozen areas, among them education, outsourcing, research and development, cross-boundary projects, oversight involvement, and planning/measurement, Mechling outlined. Courts should create public value, not just efficient service, by re-engineering business processes through technology, he said.

It's essential to involve budget directors, chief information officers and department heads with potential IT projects, he said. And agencies must invest in infrastructure, including standardizing data, using Extensible Markup Language and wireless broadband networks, he said.

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