E-Gov 2003 Roundup

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Newt Gives TSA a Red Light

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who launched his own electronic revolution in the 1990s, said June 11 that the Transportation Security Administration has developed a "stunningly inefficient system" to screen passengers.

"What we've done now is embedded a federal bureaucracy to stand around airports," Gingrich said. "It's a stunningly inefficient system that needs to be rethought from the ground up."

He said most passengers would welcome a faster way to get through security and would be willing to provide biometric indicators to pave the way.

"Frequent flyers should have the ability to go through security very fast," he said. Most travelers would say, "I'm willing to give you my retinal scan if I can get through security in two minutes."

Gingrich, who resigned from Congress in November 1998 following four controversial years as House speaker, spoke at the E-Gov 2003 conference sponsored by FCW Media Group.

In an interview with Federal Computer Week, he said the government must work harder to bring e-government to its citizens and move more quickly to "reflect what the citizens want, not what the bureaucrats think they want."

He said it is important to get people to think about "e-society first," and then e-government. He said the question a government should ask is, "What is it that its citizens should be expecting?"

IRS Discovers E-filing Side Benefits

The 2002 tax season illustrated to the Internal Revenue Service that e-filing has some unexpected benefits — fewer phone calls asking about the status of refunds.

The IRS is already planning to provide faster service for next year, officials said.

Because the e-filing process means fewer errors on tax returns and faster processing times, the 2002 filing season also meant that fewer people were calling IRS call centers looking for information on their returns. Therefore, e-filing resulted in better service for taxpayers who did have to use the call centers because IRS representatives were not overwhelmed, said Tom Lucas, senior technical adviser for enterprise architecture in the IRS Business Systems Modernization Office.

The IRS also found that many more people than expected used the "Where's My Refund?" feature on the agency's Web site, irs.gov, which for the first time lets citizens tap into back-end agency systems, he said. Officials expected the system would get about 100 hits per second, but it got many more. That also helped reduce the number of calls to IRS centers, he said.

For the 2003 tax season, the IRS is pledging to have refunds back within 10 days on e-file returns, and for the 2004 tax filing season, the goal is to have returns on e-filed taxes within a single day, said Jeffrey Mohr, a member of the Computer Sciences Corp. IRS prime contract team.

DHS seeks alert system

The Homeland Security Department is compiling a business case for the fiscal 2005 budget to finance a public alert system.

Rosita Parkes, chief information officer at DHS’ Federal Emergency Management Agency, said last week that the agency is taking an inventory of what it has and what alert systems it could use to warn the public in the event of an emergency.

Among the ideas are using the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Radio, currently under development, and text messaging, available on some wireless phones.

"We are proposing a business case to ensure that we are addressing this as a coordinated effort," Parkes said at the E-Gov 2003 conference in Washington, D.C. FCW Media Group sponsored the event.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the radio alert network, a relic of the Cold War, was not activated to warn citizens about a potential threat. On the East Coast, landline and wireless telephone systems failed, as did some computer networks. In certain areas, only people with specific types of handheld computers could communicate.

Parkes and others at DHS say they hope to prevent another failure by upgrading wireless systems so that they will continue operating during a disaster.

One area that may be up-to-date is the maritime community, which already uses warning systems for weather alerts.

Nathaniel Heiner, chief knowledge officer at the U.S. Coast Guard, said boaters already can access many warning systems beamed to them by satellite or transmitted by radio.

"All the boating community knows how to reach us," Heiner said.

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