Florida melds simplicity with high technology

In Florida, we believe government must support a technology-friendly climate — not only in our economy and in our schools, but also in the way we deliver services to our people. We must ensure that our laws and leaders are ever more accessible to the millions of people who have entrusted us with planning for our common future.

One way we've accomplished that in Florida is through the e-Budget, a major initiative to reinvent the entire state budgeting process. First unveiled in January 2000 and improved impressively since then in partnership with the Florida Legislature, the e-Budget takes full advantage of the latest technology to bring the performance of our fiscal responsibilities into the Digital Age.

Our Web site (www.ebudget.state.fl.us) allows all Floridians access to budget information not previously available in any form. With a few clicks, users can now see in plain English what programs and activities are being funded, how much they cost, how much they are expected to cost in the next budget year and what performance standards are expected to be met by the agencies spending the money.

Of course, our task is not merely to post links to pages and pages of numbers. Even a family's personal budget can get confusing if it's not laid out in a helpful way. That's why we've dedicated ourselves to making the e-Budget understandable, to making sure the numbers make sense. Accessibility is worthless without simplicity.

For example, navigators of the e-Budget can see how services and activities are being provided by individual agencies. Pages compare current numbers with past and projected years. Comparisons with alternatives are also provided, such as on our juvenile justice page. There, users can learn exactly how much we spend to supervise a juvenile under home detention vs. the care and custody cost of secure detention.

Another alternative is to browse by policy area, an especially useful tool for those state initiatives that cross agency lines. For example, our commitment to long-term care is a coordinated effort by the Agency for Health Care Administration, Department of Children and Families, Department of Elder Affairs and Department of Veterans' Affairs. The e-Budget allows users to learn how well those agencies interact to meet the community's needs and how they each budget their portion of that commitment.

Ultimately, our vision is that the e-Budget will promote greater understanding of state government by the 16 million residents of Florida and that we who serve them will be held to a higher standard of accountability because of that understanding. Too many people feel intimidated at the thought of contributing to a public discourse on state priorities. They feel "insiders" must have more information than they do, and thus their own opinions are worthless.

With e-Budget, all of our citizens can be on an equal footing, and we can give our longtime commitment to democratic self-government new meaning in the Digital Age.

Bush is governor of Florida.

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