Make room for fiber optics and fly-fishing

You can do about anything these days on the Internet. Americans are taking

advantage of online services in record numbers. They sit down at home computers

to pay bills, trade stocks, buy books, bid on antiques, share photos and

purchase gifts.

PCs are more affordable than ever. Some companies are even giving away

computers in exchange for small monthly fees or long-term service agreements.

That's not to mention the free Internet access provided by some advertising-supported

providers. And many companies offer em-ployees subsidized personal computers

and free Internet access.

The private sector is riding the wave of this technological revolution.

Unfortunately, government has not kept pace.

My goal in Arkansas is to revolutionize the way state government does

business. Our customers are the taxpayers, and we should be available to

them 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They should be able to do their

business with the government when it's convenient for them, not when it's

convenient for us.

What will be required across the country is a new vision on the part

of officeholders and government employees. We must move to a click-and-order

mind-set. Rather than constructing more government buildings, we should

be investing taxpayer dollars to build computer networks. Technological

advances have given us an opportunity to stem the growth of government,

make it less expensive and provide better service.

As chairman of the Southern Governors' Association, I have made my theme

"From Fiber Optics to Fly- Fishing." I want to find a way for Arkansas to

be on the cutting edge of technology without sacrificing the quality of

life we've enjoyed in the South. Much of the growth we've experienced in

this country in the past decade is tied to the growth of information technology

and telecommunications. Officeholders have an obligation to ensure that

all citizens are plugged into this new economy. Our poor, rural and minority

residents have the most to gain from this revolution if we can find ways

to close the digital divide and ensure that they have access to the Internet

and advanced telecommunications services.

We must set up an infrastructure that will benefit poor, rural residents

of our country as well as wealthy, urban residents. More of the population

in the South is rural than in any other region of the country, so this is

an especially critical issue here in Arkansas. Also, the presence of an

advanced telecommunications infrastructure in all parts of the region will

play a key role in companies' decisions to bring good-paying jobs here.

State and local governments must put strategic plans in place and then appropriate

the money necessary to implement those plans.

Arkansas was ranked seventh nationally in a survey of how well technology

is being used in welfare-reform efforts. And our automated system for car

tag renewals is a model for other states. We give Arkansans direct access

to their legislators and legislative materials via a Web site. It's easy

to track the status of bills. A separate Web site for the judicial branch

provides information about courts, judges and decisions.

Among the services available online in Arkansas are corporation filings,

motor-fuel tax filings, insurance tax filings, renewal of various state

licenses and workers' compensation claim searches. In the governor's office,

we use our Web page to post the texts of my weekly radio addresses, post

news releases and maintain an electronic message site from which I send

regular newsletters and hold monthly chat sessions.

Our goal is a seamless electronic government. For too long, those of

us in government have approached this subject on a piecemeal, agency-to-agency

basis. We have state information systems that cannot communicate with one

another. This must change. This new world demands not only new networks

in state government but also a new management style. Government must ensure

that the money spent on technology is spent in a strategic manner and not

used to purchase a system that could be obsolete the day it's delivered.

It's time for government to mirror the best practices of the nation's

top private-sector organizations. If we accomplish that, we'll eliminate

duplication, ensure compatibility, prioritize projects for funding, build

a collaborative working environment and create a government culture in which

ideas are shared, rather than having various departments act as individual

fiefdoms. In essence, we'll accomplish what should be the goal of any officeholder — creating a more efficient, user-friendly government that spends tax dollars

wisely.

—Huckabee is the governor of Arkansas. His technology efforts were honored

in civic.com's State and Local 50 awards

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