Center offers e-governance resources

A leading organization for government managers and a Virginia university last week unveiled an online clearinghouse to make it easier for government officials, academics and others to exchange ideas about the impact of technology on privacy, civic engagement and other public policy issues.

The National Academy of Public Administration and the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University intend for the Center for eGovernance (www.napawash.org/ce) to serve as a focal point for the emerging topic of e-governance, said Mike Dunham, who co-directs the center.

Dunham defines e-governance as the "people, processes and policies associated with managing technology," in contrast with the more familiar concept of e-government, which he describes as the technical aspects of putting government services online.

The clearinghouse will foster collaborations among governments, the academic community and the private sector on such issues as security technology and business operation.

The national dialogue on e-governance has been "scattered," Dunham said. The clearinghouse, which would sponsor forums and roundtables, would act much like the federal CIO Council, which helps agencies interact with one another on common issues, he said.

Dunham said it would also reach out to associations, government organizations and other groups with an interest in e-governance, which he characterized as complex, broad and in its infancy.

"It's one that's going to be evolving over years to come," he said. "The new capabilities being presented are far outstripping our ability to imaginatively understand what the implications are."

For example, it's easy for people to understand the use of biometrics as an emerging technology for security purposes. But some people may perceive it as a Big Brother tactic. Such issues are so critical that they need to be raised to the next level, he said.

"Some of it can be done so unconsciously in terms of use of government technologies without understanding the perception of the public," Dunham said. "At some point, there can be such a negative impact on the use of technologies that it could put back us by decades."

Virginia Tech professor Charles Goodsell, who helped develop the clearinghouse, said interest in e-governance is "growing exponentially."

Still, although technology may make government much more efficient and accessible, the basic way citizens interact with the government will remain the same, Goodsell said.

"It's certainly going to have an important future in the delivery of services in government," he said. "It's not going to revolutionize the relationship between the citizen and the government. I don't see it as basically altering the nature of democracy. I have this basic belief that human contact will be at the center of our political systems."

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Facts on the Center for eGovernance:

* Developed by the National Academy of Public Administration and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

* Web site: www.napawash.org/ce.

* Purpose: To serve as a resource and promote e-governance issues and to foster partnerships among governments, academic institutions, the private sector, nonprofit groups, foundations and other organizations.

* Serve as a clearinghouse for information on academic degree courses, certificate programs, executive training courses, conferences and seminars, research and projects, case studies and best practices, and privacy issues.

* Collaborative virtual network of 24 universities and colleges.

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