Officials seek borderless e-gov

"Government without borders" is the next big challenge for information technology experts in the Digital Age, according to state and federal officials.

Although many governments have made strides toward eliminating the walls that separate different government entities in cyberspace, citizens often do not reap the benefits, said Frank McDonough, deputy associate administrator for the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions at the General Services Administration.

"One-stop shopping has not yet arrived," McDonough told the annual Federation of Government Information Processing Councils (FGIPC), meeting this week in New Orleans, where 350 government and industry representatives spent three days discussing the management of change.

"It's dangerous to think we have the answers. It has taken 12 years to get here," he said.

While officials at the conference agreed that plenty of advances have been made in government-to-citizen interactions, they said users still don't know exactly what they want or where to get it.

"Citizens like e-government, but how deep is that? How much are they willing to pay to get these services?" asked Edwin Lau, administrator of the public management service at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

He said other governments, such as those of Great Britain and Finland, are ahead of the United States in providing integrated, online services.

"Web portals are becoming de rigueur. Everyone is doing them," Lau said.

In Great Britain, government Internet sites are organized around life events. In Canada, the government is using toll-free numbers as well as the Internet to provide information. And France discovered that 15 percent of official forms were redundant once the government began making the forms available online, Lau said.

Nevertheless, the United States is making strides, according to Alan Balutis, FGIPC's executive director.

With the expansion of FirstGov, the government's Web portal, to include states and the District of Columbia, there is a "great step forward, like Palm I," he said. "It got out there, and people are going to start using it."

Even so, the average person does not care who is in charge or how they are getting their information as long as they get it, said Carolyn Purcell, executive director of Texas' Department of Information Resources.

"Americans don't make distinctions between boundaries in government," she said.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration already has signaled that it is tuned in to the importance of moving technology forward toward a "government without borders."

"They are not only saying that IT is important. They are saying that technology can drive change, and technology can make this happen," Balutis said.

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