E-news hits citizens' desktops
- By Judi Hasson
- Mar 05, 2000
Uncle Sam wants to e-mail you. With an increasing number of Americans
and businesses using the Internet to spread information, more government
agencies have begun to tap cyberspace to communicate with the public.
Until recently, information was available online, but only if an Internet
user knew how to find an agency's World Wide Web site. Now, the government
is reaching out to citizens in new ways, and it doesn't cost a penny to
On March 1, the Social Security Administration inaugurated an electronic
newsletter designed for older American citizens. The monthly newsletter
could reach as many as 9 million older Americans who have computers in their
The idea is not new.
Online shopping is growing by leaps and bounds, and along with it, online
advertising targeted at consumers who order goods over the Internet. Bookstores,
catalog stores and other consumer outlets regularly share their online newsletters
with customers who have signed up for the service.
Internet users have even found themselves the target of unsolicited
advertising, or "spam," after visiting sites or placing orders on the Web.
But now it is the government's turn to create an interactive model for
sending information. By registering at SSA's Web site, subscribers to SSA's
newsletter will be able to tailor the newsletter to receive information
about specific issues that interest them.
Other federal agencies, including the White House, are e-mailing information
to subscribers. The Defense Department makes its automated e-mail notification
service available to anyone who wants to receive its press releases, events
The Air Force news service does the same thing, as do many defense-related
The State Department has a service where it makes its publications available.
Users need only to sign up and submit their e-mail address.
By doing so, they can then receive an automatic e-mail message about
the situation in Kosovo or Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's latest
congressional testimony. They can also receive e-mail updates of the daily
press briefings, a list of travel hot spots and the government's per diem
rates for its traveling workers.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is developing an e-mail
system to notify the public when new Webcasts are available on its Web site.
But the ultimate test of the virtual government will not occur until
2003 when the Paperwork Reduction Act mandates that all forms and applications
be online. "That's what people want from their government, and it will accelerate,"
said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Enterprise Solutions
Division of the Information Technology Association of America.
William Halter, SSA's chief operating officer, predicted that more federal
agencies will turn to e-mail as a quick and efficient way to communicate
with the public.
And it is not expected to cost the government much.
SSA is expected to spend $12,500 for the General Services Administration
to e-mail an unlimited number of newsletters to subscribers. SSA is also
expected to employ fewer than 10 workers to produce the newsletter.
But there is more to come. In the not-too-distant future, government
plans to become more interactive, and consumers will be able to e-mail an
agency and get answers to their questions without waiting on hold.
There is one distinct advantage. When you get tired of the e-mail traffic
and want to unsubscribe, just click your mouse.