The Future of Government:
Through the use of Information Systems
By: James Weems
Its long been said that government derives its power from the people. Therefore, it is only natural that governments must seek new ways of informing and helping its citizens. In today’s world where computers play an increasingly important part in our society, and with the advent of the Internet, the United States government, like so many others is reaching out to its citizens, as it has never done before.
Today the United States government like so many others, is using its information system online, to provide access to the people. The Internet has come a long way in the last thirty years. "The Internet is changing the world. It's been more than 30 years since Defense-funded research connected computers in four universities. For years, what was to become the Internet mainly connected computers in military, academic, and scientific installations around the globe. E-mail, the first major Internet application, was for years the tool of technicians and academics. " In the past thirty years the Internet has revolutionized the way many of us conduct business, spend our spare time, socialize, learn, and interact with our government.
Currently the United States government has "…an estimated 20,000 separate homepages and 100 million web pages, all different ." In an effort to help organize, centralize, and simplify, the National Partnership for Reinventing Government has been given the task of developing a blueprint for government agencies to follow, as well as make recommendations to Congress, and the President. It is this agency's goal to "develop an architectural design to enable Americans to have access to all government information and be able to conduct all major transactions on-line by 2003. " To date, the NPR has been very successful. The efforts of the NPR have resulted in the following:
In today’s society people demand more, and want it sooner. These same people are holding the government to these same standards. When the government finally recognized that the citizens were their customers, they began to try to meet the demands of the customer. To do this each agency has respond in its own way. Some of these agencies have succeeded, while others have failed. One of the success stories is the IRS. The IRS is still far from being one the average citizen's favorite agency, but their reputation is slowly improving. The IRS allows people to download forms, as well as file electronically. While most continue to file their tax returns by mail, each year the number or taxpayers filing electronically rises. "This year, about 33 million taxpayers filed their 1999 returns online ." This has proven to be quicker, more accurate, and cheaper. Hence, the reasons why each year more and more people choose to file electronically. Also, getting a refund check sooner could help in making the decision to file electronically rather than the old fashion way.
The IRS is not the only agency working to better serve the people. Take for example the Department of Labor. Most people know that job listings can be easily found on-line. The Department of Labor is no different. "The Department of Labor JobBank lets people look for job postings on-line and employers to search tens of thousands of resumes electronically." The Department of Education processes over 600,000 loan applications annually, and that number continues to grow. Even the Federal courts are online. New cases and file pleadings can be filed electronically. Even the Postal Service has developed ways of helping people out on the Internet. The Postal Service has recently started selling postal stamps online. Not to be left out, the Census also provides people with valuable online resources, for state and regional areas. This information includes population, income levels, population by age, and many other statistics. Being the year 2000, it is time for the new Census. Recently about 34,000 people filled out the Census 2000 forms online. While the "…U.S. Geological Survey recently became the first agency in the federal government to fully automate its hiring process. "
The government is also seeking ways to provide this same level of access to people who cannot afford or choose not to have a computer and Internet connection at home. Currently the federal government, working closely with state and local governments have begun using kiosk. Currently there are 34 of these kiosks in operation around the country. The kiosk idea is a good one. At a cost of about $10,000, it seems to be money well spent. The "…kiosk provides information on about 50 categories of government benefits and services at the touch of a button or a keystroke." IRS as well as INS forms and questions can easily be obtained from the kiosk. INS deputy district director in Dallas, John E. Ramirez, said "this is going to bring the INS, and government in general, closer to the communities we serve." The kiosk also saves money. While currently the kiosk only offers information in English and Spanish, it is only a matter of weeks before more languages will be offered.
This is very exciting since many people may not speak English and as a result may feeling intimidated going into a government office. People are allowed to use the kiosk at their leisure and it is always open. One such kiosk placed in a Wal-Mart, is being used at all hours. Whether it is at night, a holiday or on a weekend, it is always open and ready for use. This also saves the government money. Different agencies do not need as many people to help at counter, answer phones or serve as translators. If someone should need help operating the system or reporting problems, there is a phone linked directly to a help desk.
The Veterans Affairs Administration is also using modern technology to its benefit. The VA recently developed a "…software that uses bar codes to ensure that patients in the VA hospitals get the right medications." By using technology to monitor the administration of medications, the VA can substantially reduce the risk of over medicating a patient or administering a medication that the patient may be allergic to, or simply meant for another patient. All of this in the end helps to reduce the chance of a lawsuit. This may also help to reduce the number of staff needed, resulting in further savings to the American people.
While many times, the Internet is used by the government to save money, it is also used in some areas to help bring in money, while at the same time saving money and helping the people. Wisconsin, recently began "…allowing about 170,000 business to pay sales taxes online, transfer payment electronically and review their payment history." Other states and cities offer payment options to citizens as well. Many areas, including Tyler allow citizen to pay traffic fines, as well as water, and other city services online. All of these options are in responses to the needs and desires of the average citizen, who does not have time to go to a government office and wait in line to see someone who hates their job and does not care about who you are, or how valuable your time is.
Perhaps Maryland has found a unique use for its website. "Maryland has posted its 50 largest tax delinquents online in an attempt to retrieve more than $9.7 million owed in overdue taxes, penalties and interest. The list has already worked for some individuals, Golden said. When delinquents were notified about the online postings, the office collected more than $153,000 from seven respondents and received commitments from about 12 others." Perhaps the IRS should try this as well. It may sound crazy but I think we will see more of this. States and the Federal government using the Internet to not only provide services and information, but also as a tool to keep the citizens in line.
Research has shown that most people get online to find out more about government and political issues. Political issues accounted for 32%, while expressing views accounted for 13%, and actually contacting a political official accounted for only 9% of Internet activity in 1999. Other research into why Citizens use online government and political sources indicates that the numbers may be much higher. Whatever the number, the government must be responsive to the needs of the average citizen. Today people are demanding a more accessible; customer oriented, and user-friendly government. Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge has said "like the private sector, I think government must rethink tradition practices and assumption or risk becoming obstacles to opportunity."
If it is indeed true that the government derives it power from the people, then the government must continue to change with us. The pages of history are littered with failed government that failed to keep pace with the changing event of their time. Today that event is the Internet. Many government seek to control it, while others seek to exploit it. In many nations the Internet is virtually nonexistent, while other nations including our own struggle with the issue of jurisdiction over the Internet, and its content. Communist countries want to control the information that is available to its citizens and block what is not government approved. History has shown that this does not work. Once the Internet is in place, the information will flow. This was shown in the recent Yugoslavia war, when the Internet relayed information about mass graves and other war crimes to rest of the world. What we do not know is exactly how the rest of the world governments use the information. Are they using cookies to track what we see? We simply do not know. However, I think its safe to say we hope not.
The Internet is a powerful tool information system. With over 20,000 web sites and 100 million web pages the United States, government has a lot of work still to do. Its hard to fathom that there are even 100 million web pages in the whole world, much less that our government has at least that many. The United States and the rest of the world’s governments must simplify their Internet web pages and sites into more complete, accurate, and simplified resources. While at the same time governments must continue to meet the demands of their citizens. Obviously, the United States government has a large information system. This system must continue to improve, simplify, and be accessible to the people. It will be interesting to see how the government information system evolves over time.
 People, Politics, and Technology: Public Service in the 21st Century, Patricia B. Wood, http://www.npr.gov/library/speeches/062600.html
 Federal government gets interactive in Dallas: INS kiosk to offer services, forms at touch of a button, Frank Trejo, http://dallasnews.com/metro/99505_kiosk_21met.AR.html
 DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS RECOGNIZED FOR INNOVATIVE MEDICATION SYSTEM, Laurie Tranter, http://www.npr.gov/
 Wisconsin revamping tax system, Daniel Keegan, http://www.civic.com/civic/articles/2000/0626/web-2wis-06-30-00.asp
 Maryland posts delinquent taxpayers online, Daniel Keegan, http://www.civic.com/civic/articles/2000/0626/web-1taxes-06-29-00.asp
 Newcombe, Tod, "Online Government: Will it Make States and Localities More Responsive?", Government Technology, Volume 13, Issue 1, pages 24-31.
 Rivero, Victor, "A Ridge to the 21st Century", Government Technology, Volume 12, Issue 16, pages 115-117.