Industry wary of e-gov competition
- By William Matthews
- Oct 16, 2000
"The Role of Government in a Digital Age"
It's fine if the Labor Department's online job bank helps you find work,
but the Postal Service shouldn't be helping you pay your bills online and
the IRS shouldn't be using the Internet to help you prepare your tax returns,
a technology industry group contends.
The federal government must be careful to avoid offering services that compete
with commercial enterprises, the Computer and Communications Industry Association says
in a study of the emerging e-government.
"The government was never meant to use information technology and the Internet
to become a publicly funded market competitor," Ed Black, CCIA president,
Nevertheless, Black said, the government is competing with commercial electronic
bill-paying businesses through the Postal Service's eBillPay service, and
IRS' plans to offer online tax preparation services would compete with private
tax preparation services.
E-government is evolving without clear guidelines to spell out the separation
between government and business, the CCIA said.
In its study, the association offers 12 such guidelines. Among them:
* The government should use the Internet to improve the efficiency of
governmental services and to support basic research.
* However, the government should be careful about online services where
it adds value to public information, because in those cases, government
runs the risk of competing with industry.
* Government agencies should also be cautious about entering markets in
which private companies are operating, and they should avoid offering services
that aim to maximize net revenues, the association says.
* Helping people find jobs is acceptable under the CCIA's guidelines, even
though many commercial companies are in the same business.
The government has been helping people find jobs for 60 years — long before
there was an Internet — so doing so online is just another version of a
long-standing service. Also, the Labor Department provides basic information
about jobs but it does not charge for the service, and it offers information
about lower-wage jobs, which commercial employment companies tend to ignore,
The Postal Service's electronic bill-paying service is a different matter,
however.The Postal Service competes directly with private companies and
it charges for the service. Electronic bill-paying is not a fundamental
government service, but is a service the private sector developed. As such,
the government should not be pushing in as a competitor, the CCIA argues.
As electronic government grows, there must be a debate over what is an appropriate
role for government in the Digital Age, Black said. Business are increasingly
concerned about government, "not as a regulator of private enterprise, but
as a competitor to private enterprise," he said.