06 November 2003
"E-government" Reinventing Citizen-Government Relationship
U.S. Congressman says information technology is
bringing a revolution
(The following article by Representative Tom Davis, Virginia Republican
and chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, appears
in the International Information Program Electronic Journal "The
Evolving Internet" issued in November 2003. This article and the
rest of the journal may be viewed on the Web at: http://usinfo.state.gov/journals/itgic/1103/ijge/ijge1103.htm.
No republication restrictions.)
Government: The Next American Revolution
By U.S. Representative Tom Davis
Chairman, House Government Reform Committee
A member of the U.S. Congress explains how information technologies
can help government better serve citizens.
Electronic government can reinvent the way citizens and businesses
interact with the government. As an elected representative of the
people of Virginia and a congressional leader in information technologies,
I share this belief with the Bush administration and many of my
colleagues in the U.S. Congress.
E-government is not just a theory or concept; it's already a reality,
and destined to expand. Given time and resources, e-government
really can revolutionize Americans' relationship with their government.
We often talk about how e-government can make governments more
efficient and less costly, and certainly that's an important part
of the equation. Just as important, however, are the ways in which
e-government can better serve our citizenry. Americans see the
benefits of e-government going beyond its capability to provide
better or more cost-efficient services. They regard it as a way
for citizens to become better informed and more involved in government.
Online government services provide information on lawmakers voting
records, and the ability for constituents to offer comments on
legislation or monitor hearings over the Internet. E-government
gives citizens the ability to access online student loan applications.
It can spare the public long waits in line to register a car or
renew a license.
The Internet has made communicating with my constituents easier
and faster. In recent years the amount of correspondence I've received
on any and all issues has increased exponentially, due mostly to
e-mail letters. I've installed a software program in my offices
that allows me to quickly sort these messages and respond in a
timely manner. This is a win-win scenario. I'm better able to gauge
where my constituents stand on important issues, and I'm able to
respond to them more quickly than traditional mail service permits.
Legislative initiatives in which I'm involved are described on
Web sites supported by my congressional office and the House Government
Reform Committee, which I chair. On these Web pages, I'm able to
inform the public in "real time" about what we're voting on, what
we're investigating, and what services are available. Constituents
can turn to my Web sites for routine information about when the
House of Representatives might vote on a bill of interest, or for
information that can help in an emergency, such as a recent hurricane
that struck my district and the entire mid-Atlantic region.
Constituents can also go online to join hearings that are held
before the Government Reform Committee. When top administration
officials come before my panel testifying about homeland security,
emergency preparedness, or Internet vulnerabilities, the public
can view the hearing in a Webcast just as if they'd made the trip
to Washington. This all represents good government at its best.
Yet while the potential benefits of e-government are plentiful,
the remaining challenges are profound. While the federal government
is certainly making progress, in too many areas we're still moving
at "old economy" speed.
Most government entities have Web sites, and more and more constituents
are communicating with their representatives via e-mail. Governments
are moving to the Internet for basic transactions, online procurement,
and information dissemination. Despite these positive trends, federal,
state, and local governments are still in the early stages of recognizing
the real potential of e-government.
There is still much work to be done. We need to find new and innovative
ways to make services more user friendly. The Web-savvy citizen
of the 21st century is accustomed to the standard of service provided
by commercial Web sites, and will accept nothing less from government
We need more effective leadership and management. We need to develop
a stronger "citizen-as-customer" focus. We need more reliable software
and hardware. We need more sophisticated technical expertise.
The federal government has created more than 20,000 Web sites,
so information can be hard to find. Some information remains difficult
to locate because some agencies remain focused on posting their
priorities rather than the services their customers demand.
We need to better assuage concerns about security, privacy, and
access. By more than two-to-one, Americans say they want to proceed
slowly rather than quickly in implementing e-government because
of concerns about security, privacy, and access. Americans view
e-government through the same lens with which they view the Internet:
very positive, but not entirely trusting.
The high degree of interdependence and interconnectivity between
information systems, both internally and externally, exposes the
vulnerability of the federal government's computer networks to
both benign and destructive disruptions. This factor is important
to understanding how we devise a comprehensive and flexible strategy
for coordinating, implementing, and maintaining information security
practices throughout the federal government as the rising threat
of electronic terrorism emerges.
Finally, the government has a moral obligation to address digital
divide issues so that computers and Internet access are not available
only to those who can afford these technologies and the opportunities
they provide to reach out to government and the world. I want ALL
of my constituents to be able to contact me via e-mail, not just
the ones with a personal computer in their homes. Creativity in
this regard will be vital. We should consider, for example, whether
we can post computer kiosks in our grocery stores or shopping malls
to create equal access and opportunity to take advantage of the
ease and convenience of obtaining government services online.
Indeed, with the advent of lightning-speed communications enabled
by the Internet, the networked world is creating new demands on
government services from consumers - demands that require immediate
response. With the ability for citizens to e-mail and communicate
with federal agencies directly, Congress and the administration
must efficiently manage the federal government by providing the
resources to make sure the government can deal with new demands.
As we continue to move forward, we must ensure that our government
is utilizing the latest technologies to improve operational efficiencies,
ensure confidentiality and privacy of information, and streamline
the delivery of services. I think if we use technology to our advantage,
it will prove to be the best vehicle we have for the creation and
maintenance of good government.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect U.S. government policy.