A glimpse of the future

Don't be fooled by the volatile state of the dot-com economy, which is still booming or on its way to bust, depending on whom you ask. And don't get distracted by the endless debate about Internet taxation, important though it may be.

The real story from 2000 about the convergence of government and the Internet has been a series of developments that gives a clear indication that technology can indeed change government.

Here is a representative list of such stories. Many of them do not seem especially significant by themselves but, taken as a whole, the list is quite telling.

    * Missouri's online legislative debates. Missouri started the year by joining a handful of other states that broadcast legislative debates via the Internet. The legislature hopes Webcasts will draw a wider audience than those who generally make the trip to the capitol (www.house.state.mo.us/debate.htm).

    * Florida's e-budget. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush published the state's budget for fiscal 2000-2001 in a Web-based, fully searchable format. A handful of printed versions were sent to state legislators and the media and are available on request for state libraries, but the governor's office pushed most interested parties to the Web (www.state.fl.us/budget).

    * Virginia's regulatory town hall. Virginia's Department of Planning and Budget launched a Web site in February that allows employees, businesses and individuals to track the progress of — and provide feedback on — proposed regulations as they move through the system (www.townhall.state.va.us).

    * Connecticut's online bonds database. The state began developing a searchable database, which contains information on every bond dollar the state has spent in the past five years, for internal use. But the comptroller's office realized such a wealth of data would be of great interest to taxpayers and policy-makers as well (www.osc.state.ct.us).

    * Alaska's online public notice system. Alaska made it official in May: Publishing public notices online is no longer an option, but mandatory. The state legislature cleared the way earlier in the year by passing a bill recognizing the online system as the official source of public notices, after seeing the audience for the print publication shrink to 12, with only one in-state subscriber (notes.state.ak.us/pn/pubnotic.nsf).

In these and other cases, government agencies are taking advantage of the Web to improve access to public information and debate. By doing so, they hope to increase the public's input into the governing process.

Some visionaries believe this online give-and-take will eventually change our nation from a representative democracy to an interactive democracy. That might be asking a bit much, at least in our lifetimes. Still, during the past year, we have begun to get a sense of how dramatic the change could be, coming about through fairly simple applications and touching on nearly every aspect of government.

That, as far as I can tell, is the real story from 2000.

John Stein Monroe




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