Dot-coms are here to stay

Here's a dilemma: Government agencies realize they do not have the expertise

in-house to take full advantage of information technology, but they don't

quite know where industry fits into their plans either. Sound familiar?

This problem, which has been around for as long as agencies have been using

technology, has surfaced yet again as the federal government attempts to

transform itself into a digital government.

A slew of companies has emerged from the Internet economy that aim to

help agencies in this endeavor. These "dot-coms" propose to leverage their

experience with commercial e-commerce technology and create a new class

of services for conducting transactions with businesses and the public.

But there's a catch. In many cases, these companies are not just proposing

to support those services but to take them over. They will develop the application,

host the server in their own facility and oversee its day-to-day operations,

although it might be transparent to end users.

The dot-coms do not call it outsourcing, but that's what it is, and agencies

generally balk at the idea of outsourcing government services. It's not

just a matter of protecting government jobs: Agencies worry about the security

of their systems and the privacy of the data they collect and usually choose

to keep those systems in-house.

This time that may not be an option, if the federal government is truly

intent on becoming a digital government. Federal agencies simply do not

have the staff with the technical know-how or experience to create and manage

a large number of online services, and they cannot afford the going rate

to hire the people who do.

With no end in sight to the IT worker shortage, agencies must find a

way to partner with the dot-coms and begin to reinvent the way the government

delivers services. It will not be an easy task because security and privacy

must remain top priorities.

But now is the time for some creative solutions. Agencies cannot afford

to let old thinking stand in the way of new advances. Sooner or later, the

government must realize that the Internet revolution is too good to pass

up.

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