E-government not clicking for feds
- By William Matthews
- Jun 12, 2000
The federal government has more than 20,000 World Wide Web sites, but the
plethora of pages doesn't mean the federal sector is speeding toward a functioning
electronic government, according to Alan Balutis, co-chairman of the federal
CIO Council's E-Government Committee.
There is distressing evidence that the government may still be years
away from delivering the kind of convenient, interactive service that citizens
want, Balutis told a gathering of government and business information technology
specialists June 7. "Government is still a nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday,
paper-driven" enterprise, he said.
It may take five or more years before there is an electronic government
that is comparable to today's electronic businesses, Balutis said.
The slow pace of e-government progress has been a growing concern during
recent months. In a paper published in March, for example, the Progressive
Policy Institute observed that the government is "only moving tentatively
into digital operations," while "the commercial sector is moving at "Web
speed' into e-commerce."
"Despite the obvious promise of digital government, it has not yet become
a priority of most policy-makers," the institute said. "Relative to the
capabilities of the technology, much more can be done." The Progressive
Policy Institute is allied with the Democratic Party.
In his mind's eye, Balutis, who is also director of the Commerce Department's
Advanced Technology Program at the National Institute of Standards and Technology,
sees the Internet radically changing the relationship between citizens and
E-government would work by making information, services and transactions
at all levels of government easy and instantly available to citizens. It
would also improve and increase interactions among agencies at the federal,
state and local levels, turning government into "a seamless, customer-centric"
entity, Balutis said. We're a long way from there, he added.
Take a look at a typical federal Web site, Balutis said. Prominent features
usually include a picture of the agency secretary and copies of recent speeches — not especially helpful to someone trying to conduct business with the
And there is little interconnectivity among agency Web sites. Although
multiple agencies are often involved in providing services to an individual,
they are seldom linked electronically in a way that simplifies things for
the citizen. Instead, agencies "are clearly replicating the same stovepiped,
agency-centric mode" they created in the paper bureaucracy, he said.
Balutis is optimistic that improvements will come. "People are clearly
clamoring for e-government," he said. In many areas, state and local governments
are ahead of the federal government because people interact more with state
and local agencies and have demanded better service, he said.
And there is encouraging evidence of activity at the federal level.
Eighteen months ago, when he was asked to help plan a conference, Balutis
said he suggested focusing on electronic government. Skeptical, the other
planners asked whether he really thought anyone was interested in the subject.
Now, the government is "awash" in people working on e-government, although
not all have a solid understanding of the subject, he said.
"The major mistake that agencies make is assuming that this is about
technology," he said. "This is not about technology. It is about new ways
of organizing and thinking."