Government Technology Spectrum

Government Technology Spectrum

by / April 16, 2002
Phasing Out Passwords
GLENDALE, Calif. -- Passwords are a pain for government employees and help desk personnel, but they become a bigger pain when auditors get involved.

Glendale, Calif., employees were already struggling with changing their passwords every 90 days when independent auditors told city administrators that employees should change passwords every 60 days, said Scott Harmon, the city's assistant director of information services.

Harmon said the city decided to make the move to biometric identification in response to the auditor's recommendations and to save time lost when employees were unable to access their computers because they forgot their passwords.

The city has installed stand alone fingerprint scanners on approximately 25 percent of the city's desktop PCs, Harmon said, which has already saved time for the city's help desk staff.

"The fingerprint device has been very well received; people really like it," he said.

Harmon said the city's use of biometric devices has caught the eye of other jurisdictions and agencies and predicts government will make increasing use of biometric devices in the future.

The units the city bought cost $150 apiece, though Harmon said he's seen prices as low as $69.

Offenders Online
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As far as Steve Canterbury is concerned, all he's doing is making public information a bit more available.

The ACLU, Canterbury said, believes he's on the wrong side of the law.

Canterbury, executive director of the West Virginia Regional Jail Authority (RJA), created a Web site that provides information on inmates in the state's jails and has raised the ACLU's hackles.

The Web site allows users to check daily incarcerations in the Regional Jail Authority's eight jails, look up offenders, check visitation schedules and get general information about RJA's facilities.

"One of the [ACLU's] decision makers called and just wanted to know what my thinking was in going forward with this Web site," Canterbury said. "She said that the ACLU felt there was some privacy issues, and they were looking into bringing some sort of suit."

The Web site lists the status of an incarcerated person (pre-trial or convicted); the person's name, height, weight, birth date; the county in which the arrest was made; the docket number of the inmate's case; and the court in which the docket is listed.

The site does not list the charges or the convictions pertaining to the inmate, or the person's home address, religious status or next of kin, Canterbury said.

"I believe public information should be available to the public, and we've done our best to put the essential information online about not only the facilities but about individual inmates and the daily incarceration list per regional jail," Canterbury said.

At press time, the ACLU declined to comment.

Fighting Insecure Perceptions
SYDNEY, Australia -- People across the globe are still leery of providing personal information to their governments, and this fear is stifling the growth of e-government, according to a recent report from Taylor Nelson Sofres, an international market research firm.

The firm's Government Online Study examined e-government in 27 countries across the world and surveyed more than 29,000 people. According to the report, approximately 20 percent of the people who have used the Internet in the past month sought information from a government Web site; 9 percent used the Net to print government forms; and 7 percent to provide personal or household information to government organizations.

"These findings show that the potential for widespread use of government online services clearly exists," said Wendy Mellor, research director of the firm's Social and Government Division. "By overcoming genuine concerns about online security implications, the Internet will offer governments and their agencies an opportunity to provide information to -- and deal directly with -- people on virtually all issues affecting their lives."

Mellor said security fears break down into three general areas: the protection of information; trust; and personal confidence.

According to the survey, trust with respect to misuse of personal information was less a factor with government Web sites than with corporate sites. Personal confidence will increase over time, she said, as people become more and more familiar with using e-government systems.

"Our study shows that people will transact despite having safety concerns, so I have no doubt that in time, transacting will become much more widespread -- provided the experiences remain positive," Mellor said.

When looking to allay the fears of a concerned public, Mellor said government agencies should follow specific steps.

"Government sites must have, and clearly identify through their home page, security and privacy policies," she said. "Governments need to build confidence through positive experiences; they need to be sure that their sites are easy to navigate and that the information people seek is there. Password protection, and sometimes security certificates should be in place where sensitive information is being recorded. Reassurances that people are entering or leaving secure pages are very powerful. Transactors should be given plenty of opportunity to confirm details before committing themselves. Most importantly, governments must live up to high expectations; that is, not being hacked into and not sharing the information with inappropriate parties."

Idaho's Electronic Pay Stubs
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho State Controller's Office introduced electronic pay stubs for state employees in November, and state officials said Idaho is one of only four states to offer this option to employees.

Agency participation is voluntary, State Controller J.D. Williams said, estimating that approximately 9,600 state employees are using electronic pay stubs.

Williams said the state is instituting safeguards to ensure the privacy of information. The online pay stubs will not include social security numbers and home addresses. State employees using the electronic pay stubs go to the controller's Web site to view pay stubs. The employees enter their user name, the agency they work for and their password to view their pay information.

"The main thing is, you've got to remove the fear, the uncertainty and the doubt," he added. "That's what we tried to do with a lot of focus groups and a lot of training ahead of time."

He said that within the next year, the Controller's Office also expects to implement downloadable W-2 forms and electronic time sheets for state employees.

"Why spend money on paper?" said Williams. "We very conservatively estimated that it cost us 30 cents per pay stub, if we didn't have to use a stamp. But it costs us less than three cents to do it online."

Absentee Experiment
RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's State Board of Elections (SBE) is happy with the results of a pilot program targeting military absentee voters for the Nov. 6 general election, though much work needs to be done for the program to be extended to other voters.

The pilot introduced the use of e-mail to speed up the process of requesting and distributing absentee ballots.

Virginians in the military were able to download and complete an absentee ballot application directly from the Board of Election's Web site, said Bill Atkinson, deputy secretary of the State Board of Elections.

Military personnel were then able to return the absentee ballot, via e-mail or fax, to the registrar overseeing elections in the jurisdiction where they lived.

"The purpose of this pilot was to make sure that the procedures, policies and mechanisms in place for conducting this program were adequate and worked properly," Atkinson said.

He said four localities received requests from overseas military personnel to have absentee ballots e-mailed to them, adding that the SBE is considering expanding its absentee ballot online services to all absentee voters in future elections, though the SBE must wait for the federal Department of Justice to approve the new approach to absentee ballots.

Atkinson said the pilot was a last-minute idea, and that he expects more adoption from localities in the future.

Project Management 101
SAN DIEGO -- In a perfect world, any project a jurisdiction started would hum along to its natural conclusion with a minimum of fuss.

But this isn't a perfect world and projects often flounder, sometimes ending in glory, and, other times, in gloom. San Diego officials took a look at their mixed successes and decided to take a new approach to managing projects, said Richard Wilken, director of the city's Department of Information Technology and Communications.

The city struck a deal with RCG Information Technology to create a Project Office that will set formal project-management policies and provide tools and methodologies that match the city's organizational structure and already-established policies, Wilken said. The goal is a set of common methods for managing projects.

"We've got different people with different backgrounds and skill sets and no consistent methodology from one department to another," he said. "We're talking about creating a common template that will vary with the type and size of a project. We're expecting [RGI] to look at the city's environment, the city's practices and the unique way of delivering services in the city and figure out how to incrementally advance the skill sets and the success of projects. They'll take us from where we are and move us up the scale, as opposed to some theoretical quantum leap which we know is just going to work. The culture just won't accept it in the short run."

San Diego planned to implement its new approach to project management in mid December, Wilken said.