States show feds the way
- By Timothy Sprehe
- Apr 30, 2001
Federal agencies would certainly welcome an independent source of funding
to improve their Web sites. State governments have found such a source,
and the feds may want to copy the state model.
Twelve states Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine,
Montana, Nebraska, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia have established agreements
with private companies to operate the states' official Web sites.
What is unusual about these Web portals is that they operate at no cost
to the states through public/private partnership arrangements. Unlike federal
agencies, these states expend no appropriated funds and assign no government
personnel to run their e-government services.
Each state has an agreement with the company that governs how the site
will be run. Each passed legislation and established a board of directors
to set policy and oversee the site.
The novelty of these arrangements comes in the financing. Ninety-five
percent or more of the information available on the Web sites is free to
the public. The sites raise the revenues to pay the private companies through
regulated charges for what they call premium services.
Premium services are specialized, value-added e-government services.
Many are online licensing applications, but some are purely information
services. For example, Indiana offers BidWatch, an e-mail service that notifies
vendors of state procurement opportunities.
Virginia and other states offer the Lobbyist-in-a-Box Web-based bill
tracking. State agencies and private citizens pay to subscribe to Lobbyist-in-a-Box.
In other cases, state agencies undertake certain database searches for a
The states can operate this way because they have adopted a slightly
different philosophy from the feds when it comes to charging for government
information. Federal agencies generally shy away from charging the public
anything for information services.
The states, by contrast, appear to believe that it is entirely reasonable
to charge the public modest fees for targeted e-government services when
doing so will avoid spending state funds. They target those services that
primarily serve commercial interests and are above and beyond what the public
may reasonably expect the government to do.
As a result, everyone has access to free information services about
the proceedings of their state legislatures. But if you want that information
sliced and diced in special ways to serve your interests as a lobbyist,
the state will make you pay a couple of hundred dollars per year.
This sounds eminently reasonable, so long as there are checks on the
state's profit motives. My take is that the states' arrangements are carefully
drawn to ensure appropriate checks. They also make very good sense to taxpayers.
Could it be that these state Web sites render better e-government services
to the public than federal sites and at no public cost?
Sprehe is president of Sprehe Information Management Associates in Washington,
D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.