Citizens @

I recently saw a calendar with this caution: "Warning! Dates are closer

than they appear!" Nothing could be more appropriate for today's world.

"Internet time" has dramatically accelerated the rate of change, making

procrastination more costly than ever — even life-threatening to slow-moving


Several hundred members from the private and public sectors gathered

last month at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, D.C., to encourage

government to pick up the pace. The conference, sponsored by the CIO Council,

focused on creating a sense of urgency and developing an action plan around

the concept of electronic government. The council also has created a standing

committee to promote e-government.

This gathering Feb. 23-24 was important because we've learned that taxpayers

only grudgingly accept having to navigate an organizational labyrinth to

reach their government. It won't be long before citizens demand to access

information from agencies and bureaus as easily as finding a weather forecast.

As universal Internet access emerges, it changes how citizens interact

with one another and their government.

To address citizens' needs, we should start by adopting their perspective

of the government as a whole — not as fragmented agencies and bureaus.

Then comes the hard part: Working together to transcend our stovepiped

organizations' parochial interests. However, the hard part for us would

result in making it easier for citizens. What if there were a single place

to apply for both federal and state education loans, veterans and Social

Security benefits and to file taxes?

Imagine a personally tailored view of the government on the World Wide

Web at ""

But what to do about folks stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide?

Internet access in local libraries could help bridge this gap, and the federal

government probably could fund the entire effort — including a librarian

to assist computer novices — for much less than what we spend to maintain

the thousands of agency-specific offices nationwide. The result would be

easier access, better community libraries and a less costly government.

Who could be against that?

To get there, we must first suspend disbelief that agencies and bureaus

are not capable of pooling their resources to achieve a common good.

We could start by creating a few Internet portals to address the needs

of identified communities of interest, making it possible for citizens to

get information and submit applications without worrying about which branch

of our organizational tree they must address. The CIO Council's new eGov

Committee and the General Service Administration's umbrella WebGov initiative

could set us on the path to success.

An e-volution such as this will not be easy to achieve, especially considering

the bureaucratic behavioral changes it requires. Many changes will have

to be part of a sustained, long-term effort. Fortunately, long-term isn't

as long as it used to be.

Piatt is chief information officer at the General Services Administration.


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