Forman: E-gov good for privacy

Recreation One-Stop information

The federal government could do a lot to promote personal privacy online if agencies would work harder to eliminate duplication, said presidential e-government adviser Mark Forman.

A Bush administration inventory of government activity found that the government is involved in 32 "lines of business" and on average, each line — providing health care or operating parks, for example — is being performed by 19 different agencies.

That means the government may be maintaining 19 sets of data for a typical government benefit recipient, Forman said in an address to a privacy conference May 20.

"If you have 19 different copies of citizens' data because 19 different departments are doing the same function, does that promote privacy? I think that's a fundamental question for e-government," he said. "How many copies do you keep? Are you more private with more people" compiling more information?

Forman, who is associate director for information technology and e-government in the Office of Management and Budget, has been pressing since last fall for government agencies that perform the same functions to work together rather than duplicate services.

"From an e-government standpoint, we cannot have good citizen services 19 different times," Forman said at a privacy conference sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration's Joint Center for eGovernance.

"Unification is at the heart" of the administration's e-government strategy, Forman said. Studies show that people seeking services do not differentiate among state, local and federal government, let alone between the multitude of similar federal agencies, he said.

"Who would know that to get training as a veteran, you would go to the Labor Department? Why should they have to know that?" he asked.

Forman has promoted the development of "one-stop shopping" Web sites that make information about services easy to find without requiring site users to know which particular agency provides the desired service.

"Recreation One-Stop," for example, is an e-government initiative to provide online information, maps and reservation services to campgrounds and other recreation areas operated by the federal government and the states.

Citizens don't care whether the parks are operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service or the National Park Service, he said.

Much more such consolidation is necessary, however. Today, federal agencies maintain about 22,000 Web sites, and "you cannot have 22,000 Web sites and be a good e-government," he said.

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