A 'real-life' perspective on e-government

There's nothing like a couple weeks away to get some much-needed perspective

on e-government.

Driving across the coastal mountain range of Oregon in late August,

I realized that I spend so much time thinking, talking and writing about

how technology will transform government — and talking with people who do

the same — that I sometimes forget it hasn't really happened yet.

It's a familiar problem to people involved with government at any level.

If you attend enough city council meetings, luncheons and congressional

hearings, those people and their concerns begin to skew your sense of perspective.

What's important at City Hall would probably draw blank stares around the

dinner table.

The days I spent crisscrossing Oregon visiting family and friends restored

my sense of perspective. E-government, which looms so large in my daily

life, seemed so small after spending two weeks visiting with people who

never give the topic a thought.

I am excited by the concept of a digital government because I believe

the Internet and Internet-based applications have the potential to bring

government closer to the people. For example, heading into this election

season, certain states and cities are posting campaign finance disclosure

data on their Web sites. Such information is available by law, but it has

never been so widely accessible.

But after two weeks away from the office, I realized that the would-be

information revolution in government often goes unheeded. Many people who

are thrilled with buying books or checking stocks online simply give no

thought to renewing licenses or applying for permits the same way.

Worse yet, to be honest, I am among that majority. It was only this

summer that I paid my first visit to my hometown's Web site here in the

suburbs of Washington, D.C. It had never occurred to me before, despite

the fact that I have visited the home pages of hundreds of towns across

the country during the course of work.

The experience was enlightening. The first site I pulled up with a search

engine turned out to be more than a year out of date. Even when I did find

the proper site (with a different Web address), I could not find the information

I needed and ended up using the phone.

None of that is to say that e-government is a dead end.

I still believe the Internet will create new avenues for business between

government and its citizens. But, despite all the fanfare, the work being

done now by government agencies across the country is just the beginning.

It's good now and then to step back and realize what a long journey lies

ahead.

John Stein Monroe

Editor

civic.com

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