Don't think twice, IT's all right

Strange as it may sound, there couldn't be a better time for an economic

slowdown, as far as government IT managers are concerned. Had this happened

a couple of years ago, government agencies, anticipating revenue shortfalls,

might have put a lot of technology projects on the chopping block. But this

year's State of the State speeches by the nation's governors suggest that

probably won't happen now.

Although some cuts are still inevitable, the damage might be limited

because technology is intricately linked with most governors' top priorities,

including economic development, education and law enforcement.

Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, for example, is already asking state agencies to

reduce spending by as much as 4 percent — but not funding for economic development

related to high technology or for education. His proposals include funding

the Appalachian New Economy Partnership to increase IT skills and to provide

assistance to start-up companies in the region.

Taft also wants to expand a program that gives students online access

to Advanced Placement courses in districts where they are not available.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges proposes an even more expansive program,

including more classroom technology, free technical education for anyone

at any age, and college scholarships and master's degree programs for teachers

who want to upgrade their skills. The education program will draw on revenue

generated by a statewide lottery.

With these and similar proposals, the nation's governors make it clear

that they see a link between technology and the well-being of their communities.

In similar fashion, states continue to fund programs that will move

government services online.

Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci identifies electronic government as

one of five key investment priorities. In addition to choosing a new address

for its portal and redesigning it to make it easier to use, the commonwealth

plans to launch a campaign to educate citizens and businesses about information

and transactions available online.

And newly elected Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, noting that her administration

will "exist in its entirety during the Internet era," said the time is right

to harness the Internet to provide better service and resources to citizens.

Last year, maybe a little more than half of the governor's talked about

tech proposals. This year, it's closer to three-fourths. In some cases where

governors did not have new proposals to pitch, they took the opportunity

to highlight their accomplishments of the preceding year.

Technology clearly has become a point of pride for governors, like education

and law enforcement. That is not to say that IT projects won't feel the

budget squeeze — unnecessary projects will get cut or deferred, like anything

else. But at least the state's top administrators now recognize that IT

can play a vital role in governing and deserves careful consideration.

John Monroe



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