Council's blueprint upgrades e-gov

The private sector has automated teller machines and gasoline pumps activated

by electronic wands. Government has slow-moving lines and ponderous paperwork.

"We have a digital economy, but we still have an analog government," said Rep.

Tom Davis (R-Va.).

That needn't be the case, according to the Council for Excellence in Government,

which has developed a blueprint for upgrading to an electronic government.

Davis and members of the council unveiled a plan Wednesday that calls for

spending at least $3 billion and creating a new government technology chain

of command headed by an "e-government czar." It also urges greater collaboration

between the government and the private sector and among federal, state and

local agencies.

"Electronic government can fundamentally recast the connection between people

and their government," the Council for Excellence in Government contends.

It can improve access to information, speed up transactions and make participation

in democracy easier, the council says.

Such improvements are important because 44 percent of Americans now believe

the government is ineffective at solving problems and helping people, according

to a poll conducted for the council.

The electronic infrastructure needed for e-government would be costly. The

council calls for creating a $3 billion "strategic investment fund" to be

spent over five years.

But in the long run, savings could be substantial, said council director

Patricia McGinnis. Today, for example, it costs the Social Security Administration

about $10 each time someone calls for information or service on the agency's

toll-free phone line. That cost could be cut to 10 cents if the information

and services were provide online, McGinnis said.

It is already possible in some localities to perform government transactions

online, such as paying taxes, applying for permits and renewing driver's

licenses. But the Council for Excellence in Government envisions an electronic

government that goes much farther. E-government should make it possible

to participate in public hearings, converse with elected representatives,

research voting records and even vote, McGinnis said.

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