State of the States: E-Gov takes center stage

Information technology took its place along side such political staples as

crime, economic development and education in this year's "State of the

State" speeches delivered over the last month by the nation's governors.

Governor's across the country recognized the role of technology in

addressing those other issues. But half a dozen governor's also emphasized

the role of technology in the business of government, unveiling sweeping

initiatives to move government services online.

"The Internet, in particular, gives us an unparalleled opportunity to

re-engineer government to serve our citizens better and in a more timely

manner," said Michigan Gov. John Engler in his January 19 address.

Engler announced an executive order to launch E-Michigan, a government-wide

electronic-commerce initiative. This executive order will set up a two-year

agency to coordinate efforts throughout state government, with an emphasis

on using the Internet to ensure the government is "open for service 24

hours a day, 7 days a week."

Plans include a single state portal that will "break down a host of

traditional barriers between regions and departments, or wherever we find

them."

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft announced a similar e-commerce initiative in his address

this month.

The Governor's Council on Electronic Commerce, chaired by state chief

information officer Greg Jackson, will develop a plan within one year to

deliver state services electronically. The council also will help agencies

post their most frequently requested forms online, to be accessible to

customers by e-mail by Dec. 31 and to have all key services available

online by 2002.

"Our quality of life involves more than just our jobs, our cities, our

environment, and our health. It also involves the time we have to spend

with each other and our families," Taft said. "State government can help

ease the time crunch by becoming more efficient and customer friendly

though technology."

California also plans to build a state portal. Gov. Gray Davis is

requesting $2.1 millions as part of his 2000-2001 budget, with plans to

spend up to $90 million over five years to build the site.

But while the state's Department of General Services begins developing the

portal, California is stepping up online services across the board. Plans

include a "One-Stop E-Business Center," which will bring together

information and services from over three dozen state departments and a

larger number of local and federal agencies that regulate business in

California.

Other services in the works include online vehicle registration, by early

spring 2000. The state also looks to boost the number of people filing

income taxes electronically. The governor's budget includes $260,000 to

market the e-filing option to tax payers, with aims of hitting 2 million

users this year and 2.5 million next year.

Regulating the Regulators

However, online services involve more than buying technology. In some

cases, states are finding they need to change their laws and regulations to

enable services to move online. Two states announced plans to address this

issue.

In conjunction with a plan to move state licensing online, New Mexico Gov.

Gary Johnson said he will ask all boards and commissions to "review and

revamp the rules and regulations that govern the licensing process."

The goal will be to shorten the amount of time it takes from the date of

application filing to the issuance of a license. "The more efficient we can

make this process the more we act as partners to the industries we

regulate," Johnson said.

New York is taking a similar approach. Gov. George Pataki has directed the

state's Office of Regulatory Reform to assume the responsibility of filing

permits and getting them approved. That way, people applying for businesses

can go online and fill out a single form, at which point the regulatory

office will ensure the information gets to where it's needed in the

approval process.

"If someone is going to invest in New York, we shouldn't punish them by

forcing them to fill out the same information ten times on ten different

forms for ten different bureaucracies," Pataki said. "So if you're looking

to start a new business in New York or expand an existing one, you'll

simply log on to the Internet and fill out one form, instead of five, ten

or 20."

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