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.