Barrier Buster: Hirning Looks for Hindrances to E-Government

Barrier Buster: Hirning Looks for Hindrances to E-Government

Katie Hirning

Identifying barriers that are preventing agencies from taking the next step in electronic government is the top goal of Katie Hirning, deputy director for technology for Vice President Al Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

Hirning, former chief information officer for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, caught the Clinton administration's attention with her re-engineering of processes at the commission.

At her new post, which she assumed in February, her primary efforts are keyed to building consensus and providing focus so that federal agencies can step up the services they provide citizens.

One way to do that, she hints, is to create a task force. Such a group would include state and local officials, as well as representatives from federal government and industry, she said.

Hirning spoke with Washington Technology staff writer Nick Wakeman recently about her goals and challenges.

WT: What is technology's role in reinventing the way government operates?

Hirning: When we talk about reinvention, what we really are talking about is reinventing the process and the culture of government. And IT is the enabler for that reinvention.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for instance, handles three quarters of a million pieces of paper a month. There was a realization that there needed to be process change throughout the commission to bring in electronic documents.

Just sending those through the old process was not enough. So a complete re-engineering effort was put into place [along with] cultural changes [surrounding] that. It was a massive undertaking. I was asked to come to NPR as a result of that effort.

WT: How will you bring this experience to other agencies?

Hirning: We have clearly spent a lot of time and energy creating Web sites at agencies for the delivery of information. Now we are attempting to move those forward to begin delivering services in the way of transactions.

We know we have not gone as far as industry has gone. My role will be one of trying to be visionary and thinking about the next steps.

WT: What are your initiatives for the coming year?

Hirning:: E-government is my area, and that obviously is a pretty broad scope. I am going to zero in on the best of the best Web sites, and out of that identify three or four barriers that are preventing agencies from taking the next step.

Two of the most common ones are privacy and security. But there are other barriers — something that prevent [agencies] from providing services to their customers. A service that is transparent, easy for them to find, easy for them to know about it and easy to navigate.

For example, we don't have a common look and feel across these agency Web sites. We don't have a common navigational type or standard of some sort. And our customers don't necessarily know about the sites we do have. So that is another barrier.

That is a pretty big chunk, and I'm a realist, so I'm only using the word focus. It would be silly to think that in the next 12 to 18 months, I would get any further than that.

WT: What do you mean when you talk about "focus"?

Hirning:: It could take the form of a task force, and, if it did, it wouldn't just be the federal government. State and local governments and industry would have to be a part of it.

We are not going to mandate anything ... But there may be a way to create a task force of some sort where we come together and look at a few of the barriers. And say, "Let's make some recommendations about what might be some common approaches to how we are delivering our service."

Maybe there are five transactions an agency does, so we should ask what might be the most common or best practices for securing those different types of transactions.

WT: What are some examples of agencies taking the next step?

Hirning: At the Internal Revenue Service, there is a project with some states where businesses can file one tax return for both and then the state passes on the federal portion. So the business owner only has to deal with one form.

Also, there are community sites being built for seniors and for students. As a senior, you might need information on Social Security benefits, IRS information, be able to change your address at the post office and register for a camp site.

A lot of services for a group or community come out of different agencies. What NPR does is help facilitate the bringing together of these agencies.

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