Money, incompatibility seen as roadblocks to service delivery

Lack of funding, incompatible computer systems and mistrust among federal, state and local officials are major barriers to using information technology to integrate delivery of government services to the public, according to a set of studies presented April 23 to an intergovernmental committee that is promoting such collaboration.

The research, conducted for the Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel by Harvard University, the Ohio Supercomputing Center, the National Governors Association and the nonprofit Public Technology Inc., confirmed what advocates for closer cooperation among the three levels of government have long observed. Overcoming these problems, panel members said, means winning support from both legislators and agency program managers for intergovernmental projects.

"We have to have the ears of elected officials," said Costis Toregas, president of PTI and local government co-chairman of the IEP, and that means officials must focus on projects that solve service delivery problems rather than demonstrate technologies. "If we get stuck on the technology side, I think we lose the audience."

Officials on the panel plan to choose pilot projects from a set recommended in the studies that will show the benefits to federal, state and local agencies that join forces. "We must have an agreed-upon rank order" to get funding, said Nada Harris, a Department of Veterans Affairs IT executive who leads the federal IEP delegation. "It's getting to the point [that we] have to figure out why we support them and what they cost.''

The IEP was formed three years ago to identify and promote opportunities for federal, state and local agencies to use IT for improving service delivery.

Three of the studies presented last week found federal, state and local officials had some concerns in common, primarily how to get money to develop and field intergovernmental IT applications. But otherwise, federal and state officials tended to see legal and "cultural" barriers as top obstacles, while local officials focused on problems with technology.

According to a draft report by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, federal officials did not even consider technology to be a major barrier. "Most people's opinions were that technology could somehow be worked out," said Thomas Fletcher, associate director of Harvard's Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector program.

But local officials surveyed by PTI said they were most concerned about fixing the millennium bug, providing electronic access for citizens without phones or computers and obtaining equipment that is compatible with that used by counties, states and federal agencies.

State officials surveyed by the National Governors Association agreed with local officials that the absence of standard formats for data prevented collaboration among different levels of government.

The Harvard study said that federal officials view "lack of trust" among different jurisdictions in government as one of the most difficult problems to overcome as well as being among the most important to resolve.

Two other studies conducted by the Ohio Supercomputing Center's Electronic Commerce, Law and Information Policy Strategies program focused on legal and policy barriers to system interoperability and privacy protection.

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