Administration revamping Access plan

The Clinton administration is overhauling its strategy for delivering federal services electronically, seeking closer cooperation among agencies, state and local governments and private entities that serve similar constituencies.

The new strategy departs from the "Access America" plan, which the National Performance Review (NPR)— now the National Partnership for Reinventing Government— released a year ago. Access America called for deploying commonly requested government services online through kiosks and similar systems, but it was vague about how agencies would coordinate the offerings.

Federal officials involved with the project changed their strategy for many reasons, including:

* The public deals with the government in so many ways that there is no one set of services most people use, but specific groups, such as senior citizens or students, use related services offered by different agencies or by state governments.

* Citizens lack faith in the privacy and security of online transactions with agencies.

* Federal agencies could piggyback on systems that states, cities, universities or private companies are using to deliver their own services.

"We're more convinced than ever that without some intervention, things will stay in the stovepipes," said Greg Woods, the NPR's deputy director.

At a recent conference on electronic government, Carolyn Shearin-Jones, who heads the Government Information Technology Services Board (GITSB) subcommittee on service delivery, which is writing the new plan, said officials want to get more feedback from the public to ensure online applications are useful and that people are satisfied their transactions are private and secure.

"For federal agencies, it is a recurring theme that we need to be more in touch with our customers," Woods said. "We need to be asking them at each step in the process, 'Is this what you want?' the same way the private sector would field a product."

He said the new plan would specify several groups of services, which are used by different constituencies, that can be offered electronically. The plan also would define a common approach to privacy and security for each group and promote regular feedback from citizens. In addition, the plan would identify partners in the private sector and state or local governments that could help agencies deliver their services.

"I like that line of thinking because if they do it right, they'll be paying attention to stuff that's already out there rather than trying to reinvent something,'' said Robert Greeves, a Vienna, Va.-based consultant who works with state and local agencies.

Colleen White, director of federal and state programs with Highway 1, a consortium of companies promoting electronic government, said agencies have approached the question of digital-service delivery individually and have not appeared to be seeking common ground with other organizations. "Some of [the agencies] are so large they have 22 subagencies, and that's a pretty big project to figure out what they can deliver in their own [departments]," White said.

Shearin-Jones said policy-makers have learned that they need to put privacy and security solutions in place before they can offer the types of services most people want. "We probably passed too lightly over the challenge" that setting privacy and security standards pose, she said.

Woods said agencies have demonstrated that conducting secure transactions is possible but now need common ways of putting procedures in place.

"We've got a nice set of services for seniors," he said. "We have to have some easy way for the seniors to get to all of them at once, and we have to have some common practice for validating [and] verifying who they say they are."

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