Bush to fight back with e-gov plan

When the presidential campaign focuses on the issue of electronic government,

this candidate plans to be prepared. His policy advisers are busy drafting

a vision of a slimmed-down e-government that is able to provide citizens

with exactly the services they want, when and how they want them.

More technology touting from Vice President and e-advocate Al Gore?

Not this time. George W. Bush is preparing for the role of federal technologist

in chief. Bush's campaign staff says the Republican presidential candidate

is not ready to discuss details. His plans for e-government and government

reform are still being fashioned by aides, including Stephen Goldsmith,

a top domestic policy adviser and former mayor of Indianapolis.

Thus far, e-government has been Democrat Al Gore's territory, but it's

not surprising that Bush also wants in on the issue, said cyberlobbyist

Pam Fielding.

"We're in the Digital Age. If you want to run for public office, you

better think through your position on technology. On both sides of the aisle,

candidates want to be able to lay claim to the fact that they have a plan

to make government work better. Clearly, technology is one of the ways help

government work better," she said.

"Government reform is an important issue," said Bush campaign spokesman

Ari Fleischer. "The private sector has led the way in making revolutionary

changes that allow people to accomplish more," but so far, the federal government

lags behind. Bush is expected to unveil his plan in a speech "in several

weeks," Fleischer said.

E-government — Bush-style — is expected to embrace the idea that private

industry has used information technology and the Internet to make substantial

increases in productivity and efficiency while the federal government largely

has not.

In a recent address, Goldsmith compared government today to assembly-line

industries of a half-century ago. Government workers tend to perform specific,

narrow tasks that require specialized knowledge, similar to assembly-line

workers of the past, he said.

But broader knowledge and more flexible approaches to work are valued

in industry today. "We have a government that is designed in one era and

that is trying to operate in another," Goldsmith said.

But that can change, he added. Government can be designed to give individual

citizens an unprecedented ability to get the information and services they

need.

"I don't think that any of us can appreciate how we will be able to

customize government" in the future, he said in a lecture to the PricewaterhouseCoopers

Endowment for the Business of Government in March.

E-government "will allow individuals to cut right through the bureaucracy,"

Goldsmith said.

If Bush is serious about promoting e-government, his administration

should include "executives from the private sector who really understand

what information technology can do to transform government," said Olga Grkavac,

executive vice president at the Information Technology Association of America's

Enterprise Solutions Division. "That could result in some dramatic changes.

The American public is looking for seamless government." In the Digital

Age, people do not want to file the same information with multiple agencies,

she said.

Creating a more efficient government will require greater involvement

and cooperation from government workers, Goldsmith said in his address.

"All government employees must be part of the reform process and empowered

to make decisions and actions that contribute to the reform effort," he

said.

During his term as mayor from 1991 to 1999, Goldsmith captured national

attention as a government reformer. He cut city spending, trimmed Indianapolis'

bureaucracy and killed burdensome regulations. But he may be best known

for privatizing the city's water and sewer systems and vehicle maintenance

services.

In the process, Goldsmith gave government workers opportunities to keep

their jobs by bidding against private contractors. In one case, vehicle

mechanics chose to accept a wage freeze over unemployment. In another, government

sewer maintenance workers agreed to work for private managers, and city

sewer managers were fired.

An adept politician, Goldsmith blamed the government, not the workers,

for inefficiency.

"We have a lot of good people trapped in bad systems," he once said.

"We want to emphasize that monopoly and bureaucracy suffocate employees

and reduce public value."

Bush's campaign aides applaud the idea of government reform, but his

advisers are loath to talk about personnel cuts that might result. One adviser

suggested personnel reductions would come through attrition rather than

firings.

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