Federal e-gov forecast is gloomy

The federal government is probably still years away from delivering the

kind of convenient, interactive services over the Internet that citizens

are coming to expect from state and local governments and businesses, according

to a senior federal e-government planner.

"Government is still a nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday, paper-driven"

enterprise, Alan Balutis told a gathering of government and business information

technology specialists Wednesday.

It may take five or more years before e-government at the federal level

is comparable to today's e-businesses, said Balutis, who is co-chairman

of the federal CIO Council's E-Government Committee.

The federal government has more than 20,000 World Wide Web sites, but

few provide interactive services. Although multiple agencies often are involved

in providing services to individual citizens, agency Web sites are seldom

linked electronically in a way that would simplify things for those who

deal with multiple agencies.

Instead of exploiting the possibilities of the Internet, agencies are

replicating "the same stovepiped, agency-centric" bureaucracies they created

in the paper world, he said.

"People are clearly clamoring for e-government," Balutis said. In many

areas, state and local governments are well ahead of the federal government

because people interact more with government on the state and local level

and have demanded better service, he said.

Although it is true that the federal government is behind the commercial sector online, there is a good reason, said Bryan Mundy, chairman of ezgov.com, an Atlanta-based company that puts state and local government services — such as paying traffic fines or registering autos — online.

"The No. 1 priority for government is its fiduciary responsibility," Mundy said. The president of a company would probably survive if he launched a Web site that had a few glitches. An elected official would not, he said.

Only a few government agencies have reached the "transactional stage," where they perform services for citizens online. Companies have been doing that since late 1997. But Mundy predicted that in a few months, successes by some "very enthusiastic agencies" conducting successful online transactions "will bring the others along."

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