NSF plays matchmaker

A new partnership between the National Science Foundation and academic computer science researchers aims to improve online government services by bridging gaps in research at federal, state and local agencies.

The partnership — a virtual organization known as dg.o (DigitalGovernment.Org) — builds an umbrella to keep dialogue on digital government active and avoid duplication of efforts, according to Larry Brandt, NSF's program manager for digital government. The dg.o consortium expands on the existing Digital Government program led by NSF by helping academic researchers find the right contacts in government.

"One of the problems is trying to get people together," Brandt said. "Researchers in a particular area don't know who to go to to get started. We're going to try to build a sort of dating service online."

The partnership was announced last week at the dg.o 2000 workshop hosted by the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute and Columbia University Digital Government Research Center. The workshop in Los Angeles highlighted NSF-funded research to enhance digital government.

Any academic researcher looking to partner with a federal, state or local agency on a digital government project is eligible.

Research areas will include information and data management, digital libraries, wireless technologies, human and computer interfaces, and spatial data manipulation.

Brandt also hopes dg.o will help bring together government agencies that wouldn't normally work together.

Multiagency collaboration is an "unnatural act" in government, said Thomas Kalil, special assistant to the president for economic policy. The separation of congressional appropriations committees makes it difficult to fund projects sponsored by more than one federal agency, he said. The stovepipes of federal, state and local governments may be inhibiting research that could enable unified services online, said Keith Thurston, assistant to the deputy associate administrator at the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy.

"Budget stovepiping creates technical stovepiping, which creates barriers," Thurston said. The United States should follow the example of other countries, such as Ireland, which has collapsed its levels of government to provide services electronically but still operate as separate levels of government, he said.

The dg.o partnership is at the intersection of two administration initiatives: the Information Technology for the 21st Century effort to increase IT research and the long-standing interest in using IT as a tool for reinventing government, Kalil said.

While some early government portals are good stopgap measures, they do not really integrate government data, Brandt said. Creating a truly interoperable system for accessing government information is still a long way off, but the dg.o partnership should provide the building blocks, he said.

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