NPR effort to take flight after USPS folds WINGS

The U.S. Postal Service's decision last month to shut down its Internet site that offered the public integrated government services underscores the challenges associated with governmentwide electronic service delivery.

The Web Interactive Network of Government Services (WINGS), which USPS launched about three years ago, established an Internet gateway that linked users to numerous government agencies and provided one-stop access to state, local and federal government services.

When conceived, WINGS was considered a test bed for how the government delivers information electronically. It was designed as a kiosk-based delivery service that could be accessed easily from such public places as libraries and shopping malls. The public also could use PCs to access WINGS.

USPS installed the first WINGS kiosks in North Carolina about two years ago and tested applications developed by USPS, the U.S. Mint and the Office of Personnel Management. On the state level, applications for the departments of Public Works and Motor Vehicles also were tested. These applications focused on address changes, motor vehicle registration renewal, job applications and duplicate birth certificates.

Over Before It Started

However, the program never progressed past the pilot phase, and USPS recently decided to pull the plug on WINGS to pursue other online initiatives.

"We've been evaluating the program and where it stands in relation to other opportunities in front of us," said Paul Courtemanche, USPS manager of new business programs and program director for the post office online. "The result of that is that WINGS did finish its objective. We used WINGS to test the self-service initiative, and we successfully concluded it. With a lot of opportunity and limited resources, we [thought] it was a good time to conclude WINGS."

USPS will focus its resources on delivering its "core capabilities," such as allowing first-class mailing through the Internet and providing such security services as the electronic postmark, which puts a date and time stamp on an electronic message, Courtemanche said.

The lessons learned from WINGS will help the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR) roll out its Access America effort, which aims to improve access to government information and services by targeting specific groups of citizens, such as senior citizens and students. The former USPS WINGS program manager, Susan Smoter, is now working with NPR on these initiatives.

"The [WINGS] experience taught us how to do this kind of thing," said Greg Woods, deputy director for NPR. "The USPS looked at this and didn't see the profit margin to do this as a business offering. [But] no one thinks we don't need integrated service delivery or that it doesn't need to be cooperative."

Electronic service delivery still makes sense, Woods said. "Other agencies with electronic service delivery compare it to what they already do on paper. Electronic tax filing, providing Social Security benefits electronically— these are cheaper and [provide] a better service alternative to what agencies are now doing," he said. "So the business case is still there."

The Internet, Woods added, will be a key tool to deliver these government services.

However, agencies will continue to develop integrated services. "We started talking about service to the citizen in 1988, and we don't have a lot to show for it," said Frank McDonough, assistant commissioner for intergovernmental solutions at the General Services Administration. "But there has been a lot of activity that allows you to see pieces of the future. This integrated service to the citizen is very difficult and will take longer than we thought. [But] the basic building blocks, like WINGS, are there."

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