States Moving Swiftly to Improve Web Presence, Services
By John Nagy, Staff Writer
If 2000 ultimately stands out as a milestone in the history of information technology and state government, it may be less for the Y2K nonevent that ushered in the year than for the strides later taken by the states toward a new era of quick, efficient public service.
Many states are already on their way.
According to a survey on state-level electronic government released last month, 31 states now offer online transactions for citizens who wish to obtain certain professional licenses and use permits without standing in line, up significantly from 1998. Several more states plan to offer such services before the end of the year.
Electronic applications were one of four factors used in a "Digital State" survey that came up with "e-commerce" rankings for all U.S. states. The other factors were the availability of downloadable state forms, the convenience of access to advice via an online mailbox, and the provision of online contact information for state agency staff.
The survey was spearheaded by the Center for Digital Government, a Sacramento-based consulting group that facilitates public organizations' use of technology to do business online. Its partners included the Progress and Freedom Foundation of Washington, DC, and Government Technology magazine.
Georgia took this year's top e-commerce honors, followed by Alaska. Maryland, Kentucky, Washington, and Wisconsin tied for third, based on the survey's 100-point scoring system.
California, Rhode Island, Vermont, Hawaii, and Alabama were rated the five lowest states in the evaluation of e-commerce capabilities.
Kansas' online tax system rated a perfect 100 score and took first place in taxation, the survey's other featured category. Other results of the survey will be released later this year. They will look at how states are using cyber technology in law enforcement, health and social services; digital democracy, management and administration; and education.
The success of the top-rated states goes back to leadership and vision, says Cathilea Robinett, CDG's Executive Director. She said Georgia and Kansas both set up Internet committees early in the game in 1990.
Every state's executive branch has its own page on the World Wide Web. So do all 50 legislatures. Many of these websites went up in 1995 and have received significant format updates in the years since.
At the very least, these sites provide basic information about the state, its agencies, and their services everything from the name of the state flower to legislature rosters to instructions on how to renew your driver's license at the local motor vehicle office.
E-governments, by contrast, enable their citizens to apply and pay for their renewed license online and receive them in the mail days later. For example, the aptly labeled "Get things done" section on Massachusetts' home page "lists informational and financial transactions you can do online, instead of in line." This turn of phrase has marked recent announcements of e-government initiatives in Texas and California.
The potential of government's use of digital technology is explosive. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called the birth of e-government nothing short of a "revolution" in progress.
"The next decade is going to be as revolutionary an creative a period in American politics as was the period between the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787," Friedman wrote in a January 2 Times editorial.
Friedman suggested that the online innovations would force a national sales tax and a rethinking of privacy issues and computer access. "This," he wrote, referring specifically to the sales tax, "will require a restructuring of relations between cities, states, and the federal government."
President Clinton has described the transformation in equally progressive, though somewhat less confrontational terms.
In an exclusive online Q&A with Stateline.org recently, Clinton predicted the Internet would strengthen democracy by making government "more open, responsive, and efficient."
"The Internet of the 21st Century will not only be a global electronic marketplace -- it may also become the town square," Clinton said.