A 'real-life' perspective on e-government
- By John Monroe
- Oct 02, 2000
There's nothing like a couple weeks away to get some much-needed perspective
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
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engine turned out to be more than a year out of date.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
John Stein Monroe