States More 'Freewheeling' in E-Gov

WASHINGTON (08/09/2000) - Under pressure to provide better government services, states and municipalities are jumping into e-government faster than their better-financed big brother, the federal government, according to a survey of 37 states and 60 federal agencies.

"States tend to be more freewheeling and willing to take on initiatives. We often say the states are the laboratories" for experiments in e-government, said Ray Bjorklund, vice president of consulting services for Federal Sources Inc.

Federal Sources teamed with another consulting company, Meta Group Inc., to survey 110 government information technology officials for a report, "E-Government: Creating Digital Democracy," which they released Tuesday.

"We define e-government as the ability to obtain government services through nontraditional electronic means" and to complete government transactions "on an "anywhere, anytime' basis," the consulting firms said.

Providing better service to citizens is "the primary driving force behind e-government," they said.

Sixty-two percent of the state officials surveyed agreed that better service is the main motivating factor behind e-government. But only 20 percent of federal officials concurred. "Federal study participants were twice as likely to name "legislative requirements' as the primary driving force," the firms reported.

As a result, states and municipalities are moving faster to satisfy public demand for online services.

In Montana, for example, a successful online service for issuing hunting and fishing licenses persuaded the state legislature to appropriate money for other e-government initiatives. And a widely praised online vehicle registration system in Arizona prompted California's governor to order his state's motor vehicle department to also establish one.

However, states lag behind the federal government in developing in-depth plans for e-government, the survey discovered. "Ninety percent of federal agencies have an e-government strategy; only 78 percent of states do," according to the survey.

Lack of comprehensive e-government planning may hurt in the long run as "pressure from constituents and elected officials" leads to haphazard e-government development, the consultants said.

But too much planning and too little progress can leave governments in a "cultural time warp," they said.

"Internet time is about three times as fast as clock time. The government works on government time, which is about three times as slow. That's a nine-fold difference," the consultants quoted from Intel chairman Andy Grove.

One way for governments to speed up the pace of e-government development would be letting private-sector companies provide some of their e-government services, the consultants said.

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