Debating e-gov: curtail or proceed?

E-government's promise of an informed citizenry and "real democracy as no

one has ever imagined it" may be curtailed by new concerns over homeland

security, said Rep. Paul Kanjorski.

Fear that online information will aid terrorists is forcing e-government

advocates to reconsider the idea that putting more information online is

better, the Pennsylvania Democrat said during a March 20 discussion about

the future of e-government.

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, e-government supporters believed

that making more information available to all would lead to better-informed

citizenry and to better decision-making.

Now they must wonder whether disseminating information over the Internet

is helping "disarm ourselves," Kanjorski said at the discussion sponsored

by Adobe Systems Inc. In place of openness, e-government advocates must

ask how much information should be put online and who will have access to

it.

"It raises the question: 'Can we move as rapidly as we had hoped'" to

develop e-government, he said.

The Bush administration is pushing forward with its e-government initiatives

nonetheless, said Norman Lorentz, the new chief technology officer at the

Office of Management and Budget.

"There has always been a dynamic tension between security and openness,"

he said. In many instances, "the horse is already out of the barn. There's

a lot of stuff out there that we wish wasn't." But the administration is

going forward with 24 e-government initiatives.

From EZ Tax Filing and online access to loans to easier international

trade applications and online training, the initiatives are "very pragmatic

and very citizen-focused," Lorentz said.

He expressed special wishes for the success of one initiative, E-Recruitment.

"Has anyone tried to get a job in government lately?" asked Lorentz, who

began working at OMB Jan. 2. "The system is broken."

Lorentz said the federal government should not try to build an electronic

recruiting system from scratch, but should seek help from the commercial

sector. Before joining OMB, Lorentz was chief technology officer for Dice

Inc., an online technology employment company.

The 24 e-government initiatives are intended to be online in 18 to 24

months, Lorentz said. He predicted "four to five will roll out quickly,

some this calendar year." Most will take closer to two years and "two to

three" may have to be redesigned or scrapped.

Lorentz did not say which projects he expects to be ready early or which

he expects to flounder.

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