SSA realizes e-services complexities

The Social Security Administration may be well on its way to moving government

services to the Internet, at least technically speaking. But the agency

is discovering that in many ways it has to nearly start over to meet the

ideals of citizens and Congress.

Although the Government Paperwork Elimination Act — which requires agencies

to make their services available electronically to citizens — is only a

year old, the SSA has been working to put its services on the World Wide

Web for more than three years.

But moving to e-services is much more than putting paper processes and

forms on the Web, said Tony Trenkle, director of electronic services at

SSA.

The technical infrastructure is falling into place, but SSA has found

that putting services on the Web is more of a social challenge.

"Our agency is just not structured for e-business," Trenkle said.

It is a matter of making the people using the services comfortable with

the new medium, and this usually means changing the process used to collect

and disseminate information, Trenkle said. And for SSA, this means dealing

with the fact that the agency was founded on the concept of face-to-face

interaction with its customers.

"When you move to electronic business, you're really breaking one of

the cardinal rules of Social Security," he said.

SSA now accepts that the online services will have to be offered in

a completely different way from the "in- person" services, Trenkle said.

But it is not an easy process.

"We're drowning in baby boomers, we're rearranging our culture, we're

moving to the Web, and we have to do it in five years," he said.

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