Washington Department of Information Services States:A Fresh Approach to Serving the Citizen


Agencies Exploit The Internet For Big Returns

Artwork by:
Randy Verugstraete

By Shannon Henry

Innovations in Internet-related technology and the federal government's need to streamline are meeting each other head-to-head in some mutually beneficial business deals that signal a new wave of government spending on Internet services.

And there's a huge amount of money at stake: The federal market for professional services will increase from $5.6 billion in fiscal 1997 to $7.5 billion in fiscal 2001, according to a recent study by market research firm Input in Vienna, Va.

Major factors contributing to that growth include attempts to reduce the federal deficit, increases in information technology spending, a trend toward use of commercial services, pressures to downsize the federal work force and acquisition and infotech management reforms, said the study.

Simultaneously, both the public and private sectors are increasingly using the Internet to boost business productivity and return on investment. Internet electronic commerce revenues will jump exponentially from $12 million in 1996 to $134 billion in 2000, according to the Yankee Group, Boston.

Federal agencies are using the Internet to integrate a variety of communications and computer systems in areas such as security, search and retrieval, sales transactions and training. "We're in the first wave of this," said David Steinberg, director of the federal region for Check Point Software Technologies, Redwood City, Calif. "The cost savings are so compelling."

Indeed, innovative projects now under way at the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Training Support Center, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to name a few, show huge promise for cost savings in the coming years.

And perhaps even more surprising, the federal government is actually ahead of the commercial sector in the Internet and integration world, experts say.

A snapshot of Internet efforts spearheaded by federal agencies, and state and local governments - some of which are already yielding robust returns on investment - are profiled in this two-part feature.

EPA Cuts Paper Trail

The Environmental Protection Agency had since its founding in 1970 managed the information flow among its 18,000 employees and outside contacts with a paper-based system.

Not only was the system outdated and contributed to storage nightmares, but EPA executives realized it was ironic for the agency to be so paper-dependent when its main goal is to preserve the environment.

"A large part of the EPA's culture is to be environmentally correct, and reducing the amount of paper generated at the EPA is part of that culture," said Dave Henderson, a branch chief at the agency.

So the EPA enlisted Lotus Notes, owned by IBM in Armonk, N.Y. Now 6,000 of EPA's staffers are using Lotus Notes to track, access, share and organize information. Warren Beer, chief of systems engineering for EPA, said using Lotus Notes speeds up the application creation process from months to minutes or hours.

One of the most recent projects has been Envirofacts, a World Wide Web site that incorporates information from five EPA databases. The site, which is accessed by employees, state and local agencies as well as environmental groups, was built with Lotus products Notes, InterNotes and Domino. The relational database lets users access a wide range of information from one single point.

The EPA estimates that the site will save the agency $5 million in information dissemination costs in the first year of use and another $2 million every year after.

In the Army

Training army field units is a challenge of size and scope. So the U.S. Army Training Support Center at Ft. Eustis in Virginia turned to Verity Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., to build the Army Training Digital Library, which ties CD-ROM publishing to the Web and uses push technology.

Mark Gregory, project manager for the Standard Army Training System at the ATSC said his main goals were to keep information current, extending the useful life of the information from six months to two or three years; notify users of new updated manuals through push technology; and let soldiers and developers access the library through the Internet to find the most current information.

A large part of the project was digitally converting written data such as mission training plans, soldier training publications, doctrinal field manuals and training circulars. New CD sets containing about 400 documents will be distributed in late July, said Gregory. Each set will contain a search engine. Because of the Web publishing features, Gregory expects the sets to make his goal of having a two- to three-year life span.

"Verity's highly responsive support team has time and time again dropped everything to produce a modification ... to make the CD-ROM suite the top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art product that it is," said Gregory.

Campaign Security Reform

The Democratic National Convention planners were looking for a firewall product to secure their World Wide Web site after a series of hacker break-ins to other government Web sites of the White House and the Justice Department.

The DNC hired Check Point Software Technologies, which promises to secure multimedia transmissions over the Internet.

The plan was to give the public access to up-to-the-minute campaign information. Besides keeping hackers out, the system actually identified the address of a person who tried repeatedly to gain improper access to the site.

Check Point's software was successful in part because of a feature called the Log Viewer, in which millions of lines of information are searched, the routine data is sifted out, and other information is moved to a separate server that one employee can analyze.

Brian Wolfe, vice president of Open Business Systems, Addison, Ill., the integration company that coordinated the use of Check Point's software for the DNC, said without the log viewer, they would have been forced to use five more servers and hire five more people to sort through the information.

In the Internet and integration world, according to Check Point's Steinberg, the federal government is leading the commercial sector. "The commercial groups are stepping their toes in the water but mostly are doing e-mail. The federal government is moving much faster," he said.

The cost savings is great: Steinberg estimates using an Internet backbone, for example, costs a company one-third less than using traditional telecommunications lines. "We see many agencies building this infrastructure," he said.

Testing the Fortress

Another security-related product, NetFortress from Digital Secured Networks Technology, Tampa, Fla., has just gone through a battery of tests by a group of 16 government agencies and 45 companies. Overseeing the group for the government is the National Security Agency.

According to the group's findings, "the results of the tests clearly demonstrated that ... [the] NetFortress can be used to connect enclaves across an unsecured network with a high degree of confidentiality."

The group found that NetFortress prevents hackers from getting any useful information about transmitted data packets; provides access control and moves encrypted traffic at T1 speed.

Help for Internet Searches

ISYS/Odyssey Development Inc., Englewood, Colo., has just begun shipping a new search engine for finding and retrieving documents on the Internet and intranets.

The federal government is already using the technology. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is using it through intranets and the U.S. Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, is using it on its Web site, www.ca.uscourts.gov.

A main feature of the search engine is what ISYS is calling outline browsing, which conserves bandwidth because it only sends back the parts of documents that include the text search string.

"[That] means we can open a document that may be thousands of pages long and jump straight to the hits without converting or transmitting the whole document," said Ian Davies, chief technical officer of ISYS.

Easing Business Traveling

The Department of Health and Human Services recently tagged Software AG to develop its Travel Management System using the Internet and intranet technologies.

Software AG has been using its iXpress product to make legacy applications usable over the Web. Other projects have included traffic reports and crime updates over the Internet for the city of San Antonio and linking 400,000 licensed building contractors to databases in California.

The Health and Human Services system speeds up the employees' business travel process by letting them sign on to a remote server, enter flight and per diem information, which is then calculated and sent to the appropriate people for approval.

NASA Gets Into the Act

Faced with the familiar cost-cutting requirements of many agencies, officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., recently decided to save on operating costs by switching to an Internet protocol-based network.

NASA has chosen Bay Networks for the $1 million project. Bay beat archrival Cisco for the deal, even though Cisco has for several years been NASA's backbone router provider.

Separately, the National Technology Transfer Center at NASA hired Verity to work on its Web site, which has in the past year had a 100 percent growth rate. The goal of the site is to provide access to databases, links to field operations and send leads to the field centers.

And in another project, NASA has recently signed with Electric Press to develop a Web page that will allow users to search indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. The page will be unveiled gradually, starting with a few agencies by the end of the summer. A search engine will allow users to look for contractors or products.

Washington Department of Information Services States:
A Fresh Approach to Serving the Citizen

By John Makulowich

Driven by dwindling resources, tighter budgets and legislative mandates for increased public access, state governments are exploiting the Internet for all it's worth.

And often they're coming up with innovative and imaginative programs, many of which are yielding eye-opening results with major dollar savings and robust returns on investment.

Four especially noteworthy programs that focus on using the Internet for service to citizens are found within the borders of California, Missouri, Oregon and Washington. They share in common a fresh approach to accepting the challenges of governing in the electronic age.

California's One-Stop Career Center System

The integration of employment and training programs into a One-Stop System, a new service delivery mechanism, is the goal of the California program. Initially funded by a planning grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the program evolved through a 24-member task force made up of state, public and private organizations representing primary employment, training and education providers. It reflects the direction of California's One-Stop Vision, a new approach to work force preparation as a whole and its role in economic development.

That vision, which molded the One-Stop Career Center System, has four guiding principles for the program:

Among the key elements in the electronic infrastructure of the One-Stop System are labor market and career information, a common, that is, universal application process, automated program eligibility applications, common case management tools, automated management information system and cost accounting tools, consumer reports system and an automated job bank and talent bank.

Kathy Sage, deputy director of the Workforce Development Branch of California's Employment Development Department, said a critical part of the program is its emphasis on performance-based accountability, on well-defined outcomes for all work force development programs, from formal education to on-the-job training.

"A real challenge was to keep the program from becoming unwieldy, since we ranged over the work force development spectrum from community colleges to rehabilitation. And we wanted to include all parties at the local level to ensure electronic access for all people throughout the state. Basically, we took a "No Wrong Door" approach and built into the system as much flexibility as possible," says Sage.

Examples of Internet-based programs that are supporting the One-Stop System are the Job Openings Browse System (CalJOBS), the Career and Training Information System (CaCTIS) and the Labor Market Information System (CALMIS) World Wide Web site.

Now in pilot, CalJOBS will let job seekers browse job listings and file resumes in a talent bank. And employers can file job listings directly and browse qualified job seeker resumes. CaCTIS brings together the Occupational Guides and Profiles and the State Training Inventory allowing One-Stop customers to review occupational and training information for specific California counties. And the CALMIS Web site offers Internet access to more than 1,000 data files including employment by industry, labor force data, projections of employment by occupation and the Digest of Licensed Occupations.

Missouri Express Community Information Network Project

Designed to create up to 80 self-sustaining community information networks throughout Missouri, the Missouri Express is a start-up program that is to last three years. The so-called community information networks are local organizations that work with community resources to offer state and local information, local computer access to the community as well as access to the Internet. The Express project's goal is to help develop information systems locally so communities can make information available electronically.

John A. "Tony" Wening, project manager, Library and Community Networks for the Missouri Research and Education Network (MOREnet) of the University of Missouri System, feels the success of Missouri's efforts derive, in part, from its early start using the Internet.

Missouri photo
"Part of the program's
success comes from the
fact that we try to drive
integration across all our
-John A. (Tony) Wening

Back in 1991, MOREnet was already using the Internet and now provides and operates Missouri's public sector Internet network.

"I think part of the program's success comes from the fact that we try to drive integration across all our projects. We also think that the cradle-to-grave approach is the way to go, for example, working with communities in train-the-trainer sessions and helping them set up their systems at the local level," explains Wening.

Unique to the Missouri Express project are two features. First, the Express project has regional assistance teams made up of individuals with strong community development expertise, who act as facilitators in helping bring key agencies and information providers together. The project almost makes them necessary since the start-up funding it offers requires an organizational structure to be in place.

The teams work with the community to prepare an agenda and goals as well as a long-term plan to keep the network going once the funds stop. Second, MOREnet takes on the tasks of systems administration and server security, leaving the community to focus its efforts on content. Thus, communities neither have to purchase a server nor learn programming to take part in the project.

The return on investment has been nothing short of spectacular. According to a published description of the project, MOREnet can offer connections, training, consulting and ongoing support to as many as 80 communities (at the 1999 project conclusion) for $6 million because the services it provides to community information networks are fully integrated into projects for higher education, K-12 school districts and public libraries.

As an example of the savings, the project is purchasing four superservers to house community networks in their virtual domain. They estimate that if each community got its own server at $25,000 each, the impact on the project, that is, 80 local communities, would be $2 million.

One of the interesting dynamics pointed out by Wening is that those communities that have been most aggressive in getting applications have been small counties rather than large cities. His explanation? They have fewer agendas, so politics drives the effort rather than technical issues.

Oregon's Consumer and Business Services Project

The state's largest regulatory and consumer protection agency, the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services, faced the challenge of finding ways to share information and offer services to customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The DCBS project that started last year in July has, according to its creators, already paid for itself in both time and dollars. And as more state citizens and businesses get connectivity and the DCBS adds services over the Internet, the department expects the savings to increase substantially.

Among the offerings on the DCBS site are database searches, decision support capabilities, forms submission, publications, license renewals, training courses and information gathering. Benefits of the site noted by the department include reduced incidence of work-related injuries, wiser selections of insurance options, safer and more energy-efficient buildings, less transportation congestion through telecommuting, faster resolution of litigation and more timely benefit payments to injured workers.

Dan Adelman, chief information officer in the Information Management Division of the DCBS, says a major challenge in moving the project forward was organizing such a diverse agency, one that covered areas as different as real estate, workers compensation and building standards.

Oregon photo
"We realized this
activity allowed people
to express their creativity."
-Dan Adelman
Oregon Department
of Consumer and
Business Services

"To find the common ground is a very tough challenge," admits Adelman. "Not only in organizing the project, but in trying to understand internally how to better communicate with customers. Beyond that, another challenge was to develop a Web site as well as the infrastructure to support it. Finally, providing Internet access is a management challenge in using the resource in a businesslike manner."

Starting in December 1995 with all 15 program areas included, a committee chaired by the communications director and Adelman set a target to have the Web site up in six months. They also decided to create three committees: standards, as in netiquette, content and marketing. In two months, they developed the standards. They also initiated a rapid training program to teach individuals from the different program areas how to code pages.

"Basically, people were building Web pages from scratch," laughs Adelman. "Individuals started stepping forward to create sites whom we thought had no interest in the Internet whatsoever. We realized that this activity allowed people to come forward and express their creativity."

There are a number of lessons he's learned that Adelman eagerly shares. First, just do it - that is, set a target and put up a Web site. Second, identify content that the public wants most and offer it. You'll find you're reducing postal mail and responses to inquiries. Third, encourage creativity and innovation. It's not only good for morale, but it keeps the sites from having a uniform appearance. Fourth, market as quickly as you can, getting the word out about your site and what it has to offer. Fifth, keep your content up to date.

"We track all the documents and hits and generate a load of statistics. We have programs that keep tabs on all the documents to make sure all the links are working and that the site is getting hits. That level of feedback is good for staff and valuable for marketing activities," Adelman says.

Washington's On-Line Voters Guide

In 1996, the Washington State Department of Information Services published what was then the most comprehensive electronic voter's guide in the nation. Working with the Office of the Secretary of State, the department offered information on ballot measures and candidates to tens of thousands of Washington citizens sooner and at a much lower cost than the state's traditional pamphlet process.

Using the On-Line Voters Guide, published on the World Wide Web, citizens could use the Internet, electronic kiosks and interactive telephones to gain access to candidate statements, photographs and campaign information. Also available was information on how to register to vote and how to obtain an absentee ballot. With that success, the same type of information published in the general election voters pamphlet is now available before the primary.

And the return on investment? The program creators estimate that the $147,000 cost of the effort is little more than 10 percent of the cost of the state's printed voters pamphlet.

For Todd Sander, deputy director of the Department of Information Services, and Jerry Wardrop, Washington Information Network project director for the department, the early stages of the project were not all roses.

Washington photo
To streamline the process,
we try to generate information
once, in HTML, for example.
-Todd Sander
Washington Department
of Information Services

"We first started looking at the project in May 1996 when we were contacted by the secretary of state's office. He had wanted to produce a voter's guide for the primary elections. While he had produced a paper version for the general election, he could not get funding for the primary. What intrigued him was an electronic voter's guide, accessible in a variety of ways, that is, by interactive voice response unit, kiosks, Internet, to keep costs low," explained Sander.

As it turned out, the actual project started June 1 and had to be completed by the third week in August.

"That was the biggest challenge," says Wardrop, because Washington Information Network projects usually take 12 to 18 months. "But by August we had actually fielded the kiosks. And we were gratified that a large percentage of Spanish-speaking people were accessing the information. It was the first time we had a bilingual voters guide on the kiosks."

Among the lessons shared by Sander and Wardrop are the challenge of the implementation, which is handling the information too much. Now, when the information is generated by the secretary of state's office, they try to streamline the process by generating the source once, for example, HTML code.

Another lesson comes from the translation into Spanish. They agree that one person should do the translation to ensure the meaning gets across, especially since there are numerous dialects to work with.

Asked how they deal with the cost savings involved in such projects and the expectations of the appropriation and authorization committees, Sander pointed out that the governor of Washington had established a savings plan.

Agencies that had not spent their allocated funds by the end of fiscal year have half returned to them for discretionary use while the other half goes into a special education and training fund.

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