State Legislatures Can Hamper E-Gov Initiatives

State Legislatures Can Hamper E-Gov Initiatives

Paul Patton

Steve Kolodney

Gov. Jim Geringer

Many U.S. governors have a hard road convincing their legislatures that Internet technology can transform government and vastly improve the way services are delivered to citizens.

While the goal of electronic government is to lower the cost of public services, "not every legislature is convinced of that," said Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer at a Feb. 26 meeting of an e-governance task force established by the National Governors' Association. "They are convinced that every time a governor proposes more technology, it just adds to the cost of technology and does not reduce the cost of government at all."

The irony is that many legislatures are prone to add new services without providing funding for technology that could offset increases in the cost of those services, he said.

Geringer and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton are co-chairmen of the NGA's e-gov task force.

Governments make decisions differently ? and sometimes much more reluctantly ? than businesses, Patton said. Because of this, the transfer of government services to the Internet will "only come about through the aggressive leadership of government officials, primarily governors," Patton said.

"I believe it is very important that we and our primary assistants fully understand that it is going to take our personal involvement to make things happen," he said.

"If governors don't get directly involved, their states are going to get left out of the new economy," Jerry Mechling, director of strategic computing and telecommunications in the public sector at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., told Washington Technology.

Last year, Harvard convened a group to study the process of enabling the Internet to provide government services. One of its eight recommendations was that elected officials improve budgeting and financing for promising IT initiatives.

The involvement and support of the legislature is crucial to the success of e-government, not only because state legislatures control funds, but also because they enact laws and regulations that influence and make possible e-government, said John Goggin, vice president for electronic government strategic service at Meta Group, Stamford, Conn.

For example, state legislatures could decide how information is shared among agencies, he said.

At the e-governance task-force meeting, governors heard advice on a wide array of issues related to e-government from four experts on the topic: Goggin; Mechling; Robin Warren, privacy executive at Bank of America Corp., Charlotte, N.C.; and Steve Rockwood, executive vice president at Science Applications International Corp., San Diego.

Although persuading legislators to fund e-government may seem daunting to governors, certain tactics will improve their chances for success, according to policy experts and state chief information officers.

Technology officials in the state of Washington tailor a project's length to the budget process and break down large projects into smaller components, so they can show successes before requesting additional funds, said Steve Kolodney, Washington's CIO.

"If you go in with large-scale requests, those are targets of opportunity [for the legislators] and have to be justified in complicated ways," he said. "That is not a successful way to deal with the legislature on funding issues."

It is the responsibility of state CIOs to demonstrate to the legislatures how a given technology investment can benefit state government, said Goggin. "The CIO goes in first and paints the broad enterprise picture of how it should be," he said.

Agency officials and at least one private-sector representative will need to explain in detail how an application can be implemented into a government setting, he said. A private-sector representative should be on hand to explain the fine points of the technology and answer questions from members of the legislature.

In subsequent meetings, the NGA task force will examine related policy issues, identify fundamental concepts and share implementation strategies for e-government, Geringer said. Rather than advocate a single methodology, the task force hopes to capitalize on innovation from different approaches coming out of the states, he said.

As for specific issues, the governors and private-sector experts agree that state government must upgrade and connect legacy IT systems to the portals through which citizen transactions flow, and that constituent relationship management is as essential to e-government as software applications.

Goggin said state officials must tackle now the legacy systems that are hindering e-government. "The legacy 'monster' is not lean enough," he said.

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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