Miami-Dade launches portal

Miami-Dade County, the largest metropolitan area in Florida, recently unveiled a portal that officials said would not only provide around-the-clock service, but would make government more efficient and accountable.

Although the portal was launched in April, Mayor Alex Penelas officially announced the site (miamidade.gov) July 13. The portal, developed and hosted by IBM Corp. and EzGov Inc., includes the county's first three interactive functions, enabling people to:

    * Make occupational license renewals.

    * Pay parking tickets online.

    * Make requests for service, such as repairing a street pothole.

"I think this, over time, will allow us to collapse the space between citizens and the government," said Randy Witt, the county's chief information officer.

Miami-Dade, he said, has been studying, learning and planning for e-government applications since late 1999. A working group, including representatives from the county's 43 departments, talked with vendors and conducted a cost/benefit analysis of 170 interactive applications before narrowing the list down.

In addition to the current applications, Witt said the government is planning to develop eight more interactive applications, including paying property taxes online.

He said the county is exploring other payment methods, such as electronic checking, in addition to the credit card option already in use. Witt also said he's "absolutely opposed" to charging convenience fees for citizen applications. "We make things cheaper and easier for us, and we're going to charge the citizens for it?" he asked.

The portal includes an easily navigable directory so users can search for services rather than departments, he said. The county has so many jurisdictions — including 30 municipalities, the South Florida Water Management Agency and the Metro-Dade Expressway Authority — he said it's difficult for citizens to figure out what agency performs what service.

Although the county has large Hispanic and Haitian communities, the portal is only offered in English. Witt said the county evaluated several translation programs and didn't find one that was satisfactory. He said the county does have call centers with people who speak Spanish and Creole.

Penelas said the translation problem is something the government will tackle and probably will develop a model for other governments to emulate. He said one of the main challenges in the county, which has about 2.5 million people, is the digital divide.

"We are a poor community. We are immigrant-rich," he said. "Not everyone has a computer at home."

He said he would be holding press conferences in public libraries to encourage people to go to their local library to access the portal.

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