A sensible goal for FirstGov

The history of government reform is littered with plans to make government

less bureaucratic, more responsive and less wasteful. Although most have

failed, many of the procurement and information technology reforms instituted

in the 1990s have helped clean the federal government's house of red tape

and shut, if not slammed, the doors on wasteful spending.

But what those reforms have not attained, some say the Internet may

very well bring to fruition. General Services Administration officials who

are developing the FirstGov portal are convinced that the federal Web site

will prove to be the catalyst to reshape the structure of the federal government,

eliminating redundancy in the process.

FirstGov — by providing a way for citizens to find information about

federal programs even if numerous agencies have responsibility over them

and to track down information that may be scattered among several agency

databases — should make it evident to government officials and the public

that agencies could combine many efforts.

Technology can take some of the credit for making government more efficient

and more responsive. To be sure, the federal government is roughly the size

it was during the Kennedy administration despite having taken on large welfare

programs such as Medicare and Medicaid as well as overseeing thousands of

new environmental, workplace and civil rights regulations and laws.

Internet enthusiasts have claimed the Web will change our cultural and

social structure like never before, but knocking down agency stovepipes

and convincing federal workers to give up turf — as pointed out by FirstGov

developers in this week's cover story — may be a stretch.

Setting our sights on a less ambitious but equally important goal may

be more sensible. If, at the very least, FirstGov makes it easier for the

public to navigate the maze of federal agencies, bureaus and offices to

find the information it needs, that would be a huge success. In so doing,

it may help educate Americans about exactly what role government plays in

their lives and improve their opinions of public servants.

Now that would be something.

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