Not e-gov but e-governance

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new program to look beyond

information technology for developing online applications to establishing

the policies and practices that are required to meet veterans' needs in

a digital government.

The VA started its e-governance program April 6 and kicked off the program

with the first meeting of its 22-member steering committee at the end of

May.

The new program, which is separate from the VA's office of the chief

information officer, focuses on developing strategies that address the privacy

and ethical issues associated with making personal information available

to veterans online. The e-governance program also aims to cull best practices

from other e-governance activities, within the VA and across government.

Pat O'Neil, deputy assistant secretary for program and data analysis

at the VA and chair of the steering committee, stressed the distinction

between e-governance and e-government. E-governance entails the processes

used to provide services to the public, while e-government is the tool to

accomplish e-governance.

"We need to be thinking of these processes as a collective, collaborative

effort," O'Neil said. "I think it will take reinvention to the next level."

The steering committee has formed subcommittees to gather information

about different electronic initiatives at the VA and elsewhere in government.

Under direction from Herschel Gober, deputy secretary for Veterans Affairs,

the first few initiatives are:

n Create an e-governance clearinghouse, electronically available, that

will provide the VA with a single place to retrieve information about e-governance

activities in programs, projects, training and education; policies and legislation;

various initiatives and trends; and a directory of contacts and a telephone

directory.

n Analyze the extent of the digital divide among U.S. veterans, particularly

disabled veterans, and develop possible remedies to make digital information

accessible to them.

Robert Koladner, associate chief information officer at the Veterans

Health Administration, has been named liaison between the e-governance program

and the VA CIO Council. Koladner also is heading what O'Neil referred to

as a prime example of e-governance at VA, the Health eVet prototype study

(www.health-evet.va.gov).

Health eVet would give veterans ownership of their personal medical

information via the Internet so that it could be easily transferred to various

doctors and help the patient make more intelligent decisions about health

care, Koladner said. The World Wide Web site would be so secure that even

the operators of the site could not get to the information.

"If we can create an environment the user trusts, then we hope they

will be more inclined to maintain a complete health record," he said.

The committee is starting with introspection, opening a discussion on

the basic policies and principles for the e-governance steering committee,

O'Neil said. The committee needs to have the kind of flexibility and adaptability

that it hopes to help implement elsewhere at the VA, she said.

The steering committee also will attend a one-day workshop this month

on e-governance and its potential implications for the VA developed in partnership

with Digital 4Sight, formerly the Alliance for Converging Technologies.

Digital 4Sight (www.digital4sight. com) is an international e-business

consulting firm that has been running a program for its clients called "Governance

in the Digital Economy." During the workshops, which are customized to the

group's particular interests, Digital 4Sight shares case studies from other

governments and industry to help members think through issues of government

in the Digital Age and how it will affect their work, said David Agnew,

executive director of Digital 4Sight.

"Governments for a long time have been wrestling with how you become

more customer-centric and customer- focused," Agnew said. "We're still in

a stage where in major industrialized countries we're bumping up to the

halfway mark as far as getting people connected. It has changed the way

people want to relate to their governments, each other and their businesses."

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