Smart forms to aid Alaska dividends

Alaska, which spreads the wealth of its oil and gas revenues to its citizens each year in the form of dividends, has found a way to do it more efficiently and less epensively.

In March — the last month each year for citizens to apply for the dividend — the state's department of revenue began having citizens file for their annual piece of the pie over the Internet, using a "smart forms" system supplied by PureEdge Solutions Inc., a Canadian company specializing in electronic transactions.

It was a trial run for the system, which next year will begin on Jan. 1, said Robyn Rader, a spokeswoman for PureEdge.

More than half a million Alaskans file for the dividends each year, a process historically done using paper forms and the U.S. mail, according to Shannon MacLeod, a company product manager, during the E-Gov 2000 conference, this week in Washington, D.C.

Typical turnaround time is about three months, she said, but it is longer for the roughly 30,000 people whose forms are returned for being incomplete or because of an error. By filing electronically using the smart forms system, applicants are prompted to fill out the form completely and are prompted if information is unclear or not consistent, MacLeod said.

Paul Dick, chief of operations for Alaska's revenue department, said that processing so many applications over a three-month period strains the department's resources. He said that PureEdge's Internet forms system "enabled us to reduce our processing costs and dramatically speed up service."

He said the department even nominated the new program for a major award, the National Association of State Chief Administrators Award for Creative Excellence in government technology.

Citizens apply for their dividend — which amounted to $1,769.84 per person in 1999 — by going to the revenue department's Web site, www.revenue.state.ak.us/pfd/index.htm, and filling out and filing the application online. (The online forms will be available again Jan. 1, when citizens may begin applying for their Year 2000 dividends.) The company's program, called InternetForms Commerce System, enables government departments, as well as businesses, to develop, use, sign and process legally binding Extensible Markup Language (XML) documents.

In Alaska, this will mean the eventual elimination of at least a half million paper forms each year, as well as an end to hiring temporary workers to handle the workload.

The March tryout saw 8,200 dividend applications filed, processed and electronically distributed, according to MacLeod.

She said Alaskan officials believe that more than half of those eligible for the annual dividends — or about 300,000 citizens — will eventually be filing online.

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