Portals, Politics And the Public

Tech Topics Take Many Angles at NASIRE

Donna Morea

By Steve LeSueur

Governments increasingly are turning to the private sector to help build or expand portals that provide online links to the information and services they want, according to a survey of chief information officers from 30 states.

And because of lack of funds to pay, many states are planning to compensate vendors through transaction-fee arrangements in which businesses and citizens are charged fees for certain online services, said Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell.

Purcell presented the survey results at the May 1-2 conference of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives, an organization representing the CIOs from the states and U.S. territories.

Two-thirds of the responding states already have portals, which are gateway Web sites designed to help users find information. Eight of the remaining 10 surveyed are planning to have portals within a year.

And 13 states have gubernatorial or legislative directives to get public services online, further driving the e-government push.

The move toward transaction-fee arrangements is exemplified by the success of the National Information Consortium of Overland Park, Kan., which manages the portal and Web services for about a dozen states.

While citizens can obtain 98 percent of a state's online information and services for free, the portal is funded through fees charged by NIC and the state government for a few of the services. One, for example, is the selling of drivers' license information to insurance companies.

Other systems integrators, such as IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y., and American Management Systems Inc., Fairfax, Va., also provide online services that rely on transaction fees and other self-funding arrangements.

"We're going to see the world evolve to a value-based model where savings will fund applications and future investments," said Donna Morea, a vice president with AMS.

The NASIRE meeting included presentations and discussions on a number of topics, including privacy, security, expanding online government services and the digital divide. Among the interesting observations:

• Governments soon will charge reduced fees for online transactions with the state, said Tom Bostick, executive director for the GeorgiaNet Authority, which distributes the state's public information electronically.

Currently, online transactions cost the same and even more than traditional face-to-face or mail-in transactions. But Bostick and others predict this will change as governments encourage more citizens and businesses to use online services, which actually are less costly to provide.

"Our legislators are starting to look at this idea, and I think we're going to start seeing it next year in lot of our e-commerce activities," said Bostick.

• As an innovative way to attack the digital divide, South Dakota is considering opening up its schools for citizens to use computers and the Internet after hours and possibly on the weekends.

"Some of our schools have rooms with 10, 20, even 30 PCs. This would be a way for the general populace to take advantage of that equipment," said Otto Doll, commissioner of the state's bureau of information and telecommunications.

• The Internet is not a panacea for the economic ills of America's rural communities, and politicians should not make exaggerated promises about its potential, said Daniel Clodfelter, a member of the North Carolina Senate.

"Before there was the Internet, there was electricity, telephones, railroads and canals. These were all the various technologies that were supposed to eliminate time and distance," he said. "And each one of those technologies had great promise for our rural communities, but they did not solve and cannot solve the pace of urbanization. Indeed, in many ways, they fed the urban engine more powerfully than before."

The integration of computer systems among different agencies often runs up against unexpected resistance in state legislatures. The reason is that legislators do not want to lose control of funding and authority over the agencies that their committees oversee.

"In the political world, we have stovepipes for another reason, and that is because every congressional or legislative subcommittee needs to have its own piece of the action," said Jeffrey Eisenach, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation in Washington.

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