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06 November 2003

"E-government" Reinventing Citizen-Government Relationship

U.S. Congressman says information technology is bringing a revolution

(The following article by Representative Tom Davis, Virginia Republican and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, appears in the International Information Program Electronic Journal "The Evolving Internet" issued in November 2003. This article and the rest of the journal may be viewed on the Web at: http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itgic/1103/ijge/ijge1103.htm. No republication restrictions.)

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Government: The Next American Revolution
By U.S. Representative Tom Davis
Chairman, House Government Reform Committee

A member of the U.S. Congress explains how information technologies can help government better serve citizens.

Electronic government can reinvent the way citizens and businesses interact with the government. As an elected representative of the people of Virginia and a congressional leader in information technologies, I share this belief with the Bush administration and many of my colleagues in the U.S. Congress.

E-government is not just a theory or concept; it's already a reality, and destined to expand. Given time and resources, e-government really can revolutionize Americans' relationship with their government.

We often talk about how e-government can make governments more efficient and less costly, and certainly that's an important part of the equation. Just as important, however, are the ways in which e-government can better serve our citizenry. Americans see the benefits of e-government going beyond its capability to provide better or more cost-efficient services. They regard it as a way for citizens to become better informed and more involved in government.

Online government services provide information on lawmakers voting records, and the ability for constituents to offer comments on legislation or monitor hearings over the Internet. E-government gives citizens the ability to access online student loan applications. It can spare the public long waits in line to register a car or renew a license.

The Internet has made communicating with my constituents easier and faster. In recent years the amount of correspondence I've received on any and all issues has increased exponentially, due mostly to e-mail letters. I've installed a software program in my offices that allows me to quickly sort these messages and respond in a timely manner. This is a win-win scenario. I'm better able to gauge where my constituents stand on important issues, and I'm able to respond to them more quickly than traditional mail service permits.

Legislative initiatives in which I'm involved are described on Web sites supported by my congressional office and the House Government Reform Committee, which I chair. On these Web pages, I'm able to inform the public in "real time" about what we're voting on, what we're investigating, and what services are available. Constituents can turn to my Web sites for routine information about when the House of Representatives might vote on a bill of interest, or for information that can help in an emergency, such as a recent hurricane that struck my district and the entire mid-Atlantic region.

Constituents can also go online to join hearings that are held before the Government Reform Committee. When top administration officials come before my panel testifying about homeland security, emergency preparedness, or Internet vulnerabilities, the public can view the hearing in a Webcast just as if they'd made the trip to Washington. This all represents good government at its best.

Yet while the potential benefits of e-government are plentiful, the remaining challenges are profound. While the federal government is certainly making progress, in too many areas we're still moving at "old economy" speed.

Most government entities have Web sites, and more and more constituents are communicating with their representatives via e-mail. Governments are moving to the Internet for basic transactions, online procurement, and information dissemination. Despite these positive trends, federal, state, and local governments are still in the early stages of recognizing the real potential of e-government.

There is still much work to be done. We need to find new and innovative ways to make services more user friendly. The Web-savvy citizen of the 21st century is accustomed to the standard of service provided by commercial Web sites, and will accept nothing less from government sites.

We need more effective leadership and management. We need to develop a stronger "citizen-as-customer" focus. We need more reliable software and hardware. We need more sophisticated technical expertise.

The federal government has created more than 20,000 Web sites, so information can be hard to find. Some information remains difficult to locate because some agencies remain focused on posting their priorities rather than the services their customers demand.

We need to better assuage concerns about security, privacy, and access. By more than two-to-one, Americans say they want to proceed slowly rather than quickly in implementing e-government because of concerns about security, privacy, and access. Americans view e-government through the same lens with which they view the Internet: very positive, but not entirely trusting.

The high degree of interdependence and interconnectivity between information systems, both internally and externally, exposes the vulnerability of the federal government's computer networks to both benign and destructive disruptions. This factor is important to understanding how we devise a comprehensive and flexible strategy for coordinating, implementing, and maintaining information security practices throughout the federal government as the rising threat of electronic terrorism emerges.

Finally, the government has a moral obligation to address digital divide issues so that computers and Internet access are not available only to those who can afford these technologies and the opportunities they provide to reach out to government and the world. I want ALL of my constituents to be able to contact me via e-mail, not just the ones with a personal computer in their homes. Creativity in this regard will be vital. We should consider, for example, whether we can post computer kiosks in our grocery stores or shopping malls to create equal access and opportunity to take advantage of the ease and convenience of obtaining government services online.

Indeed, with the advent of lightning-speed communications enabled by the Internet, the networked world is creating new demands on government services from consumers - demands that require immediate response. With the ability for citizens to e-mail and communicate with federal agencies directly, Congress and the administration must efficiently manage the federal government by providing the resources to make sure the government can deal with new demands.

As we continue to move forward, we must ensure that our government is utilizing the latest technologies to improve operational efficiencies, ensure confidentiality and privacy of information, and streamline the delivery of services. I think if we use technology to our advantage, it will prove to be the best vehicle we have for the creation and maintenance of good government.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect U.S. government policy.

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