Giving states their say

The National Association of Chief Information Officers

Information technology not only has improved how the federal government is managed, but it is fostering closer working relationships with state governments, according to the state representative on the federal CIO Council. This summer, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers tapped Wendy Rayner, New Jersey's head technologist, to represent the association on the CIO Council. Her main role, she said, is to be a conduit for communications between the two groups. The new relationship also helps the groups understand each other's challenges and problems in approaching issues.

"Simply, when there was a new program, states have often not been involved. We have a vehicle for discussion that we hadn't had before," she said, adding that that vehicle is now technology.

"In the past, the technology was mainly framed-based, very silo-based," Ray.ner said. Today, the Internet makes sharing information much easier. "We need to do it. It's obvious for us to share because we all share the same businesses, the same citizens.

"I believe it's a driver for change," she continued, "because it's creating this expectation for citizens that something's going to happen. We're going to make it easier, accessible and seamless from a citizen's perspective."

Mayi Canales, who co-chairs the CIO Council's E-government Committee, said technology "is forcing us to work together and develop standards" for such things as electronic signatures, securing documents and sharing data. Federal officials have always had some type of relationship with state and local representatives, she said, but technology is allowing the governments to "do real things that you can touch and feel."

The Government Without Boundaries project is one recent result of cross- jurisdictional initiatives. Its aim is to present a virtual pool of online information and services spanning the federal, state and local governments. Someone seeking a public service need not know which level of government or which agency provides the service; the individual can search by the service provided. New Jersey is a participant in a parks and recreation pilot project for Government Without Boundaries, creating an online demonstration program linking events information at local, state and federal parks throughout the state. "This is the most exciting thing coming out of this new relationship," Rayner said. "Each time we pilot this, we will learn from each other."

The federal government, she said, is learning how to be more citizen-centric, "and that's permeated through all of government. That is a sea change."

Canales agreed. "It makes a lot of sense for us," she said, to reach out to the state and local governments because an overwhelming majority of citizen interaction is at the local level. "For example, if we're streamlining trade, then we should do it with the border states, the export/import community and other businesses," she said.

On the other end, state governments are realizing that the federal government is constrained by what it can and cannot do. "We learned from them that they often have big mandates," Rayner said. "They need to solve their problems just as well. Their problems are removed from the citizens, but they are just as important."

Canales, who is also the U.S. Treasury Department's deputy CIO, said Government Without Boundaries is just one of many electronic intergovernmental projects in the works. She said government-to-government and government-to-business initiatives would constitute the bulk of "process-oriented initiatives" under e-government.

The main hurdles to the state/federal relationship are "cultural by far," according to Canales. "It's not something we've done as a norm.... But, as with anything, as we build the relationship, as we start with initiatives and start re-engineering, the relationship grows and the trust builds, and you get mechanisms in place." Rayner said that in the past, there's been a lot of talk but not a lot of follow-through. Although the state and federal governments have had "very good conversations...we haven't pressed our foot to the pedal here."

She said the only way for government officials to change the way they think is through communication. "Sounds simple, but it isn't," she said. "You have to know who to talk to."

Canales said that it may take some time, but she sees the relationship only becoming stronger. "As we improve the process with the technology, then the people behind the process will have to change the way they do things to have a true re-engineering," she said.

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