Government Hasn't Challenged Itself Enough on IT

WASHINGTON (07/13/2000) - The federal government has embraced technology in some ways, but there are still too many federal employees who view cyberspace as nothing more than a new place to do their work the same old way, Robert Mallett, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, said Thursday in the closing keynote speech at the E-Gov trade show and conference.

Mallett praised some programs that have leveraged new technology, but he said the government has not challenged itself enough.

"We still hold on to old dogmas about what is not possible, what some bureaucrat somewhere or some politician somewhere will never allow," Mallett said. "We have to gird up ourselves for the struggle with the recalcitrant bureaucrats and for the reluctant Congress. We need to educate the naysayers in our own departments who fear change."

Government managers who have been resistant to new technology must be educated about how the Internet can make their jobs easier or moved to the side so that progress can be made, Mallett said.

It's time for the government to "jump in (to technology) with both feet, even if we have cold feet" and radically change the way it responds to citizens," he said. The new buzz phrase to replace B2B (business to business) should be "G2C," or "government to citizen."

There are some new federal initiatives already in the works, including the portal www.firstgov.gov, which President Bill Clinton said will be up and running in September. [See "Private Aid for Portal," June 26.] The site will replace WebGov, a portal that the General Services Administration has been developing for 2 years. The new site will centralize all the resources the U.S. government currently maintains online at more than 20,000 Web sites.

Mallett also cited a U.S. Census Bureau program that made it possible for people to complete their census forms online. An estimated 66,000 people filed their short forms that way, a small number of the 100 million total short forms, but Mallett called the program successful because it was unadvertised and because there were no security breaches.

"Now, I'm not going to predict when we will see a paperless census, but I know that that day will come," Mallett said.

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