New York Gov. George Pataki

The Empire State ramps up for 21st-century government and economic development.

by / February 20, 2003
Electronic Government: Since you took office in 1995, much of your economic agenda has focused on reducing what you called "over-regulation and excessive taxation" of state government. Can electronic government significantly contribute to the new direction you have set for state government?

Pataki: The private sector has not only embraced e-commerce, it has made it a part of its economic growth and future. Government must do the same. The fact that New York is 3rd in the country in high-tech jobs is a clear indication that I see technology has a key role in our economic development efforts.

I announced an e-Commerce/e-Government initiative in New York state with the vision of creating a digital "government without walls." This initiative will change how government services and transactions are delivered in New York state, making the state more efficient and effective as it serves its citizens.

Reducing barriers to economic prosperity includes reducing delays, inefficiencies and frustrations in accessing and receiving government services, which my new initiative will do. E-Commerce/e-Government holds the key to streamlining government operations and providing better and cheaper services to citizens and businesses. If a business locates here in New York, the government will provide the information and services to that business online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We are putting the citizens and businesses in charge of their relationship with the government.

E-Gov: We live in a world where globalization is eroding sovereignty, and where the Internet and a networked society are changing the face of commerce. What will be the legitimate role of government in the 21st century? How big or small should government seek to be?

Pataki: The role of government in the 21st century is to serve its citizens as efficiently and effectively as possible. Citizens don't necessarily care if they are dealing with a school district, state agency or a local government; they just want reliable convenient service. Government must be unobtrusive, convenient, and meet its citizens' needs. In short, 21st-century government will be what citizens expect and deserve. Government should be only as big as it needs to be to meet those expectations. I'm not talking about layoffs, but rather, using technology to change the paradigm so that government employees can focus on providing enhanced services to the citizens, moving away from being bogged down in a sea of red tape and paper-pushing.

Government must change and improve as the needs and expectations of its constituents change and grow. This requires that we make strategic investments in technology. Government must quickly remove barriers, such as I did here in New York in 1999 by signing the Electronic Signatures and Records Act. This law removes legal barriers to the use of electronic signatures and records in New York state. I'm proud to say our state was ahead of the curve, with this legislation signed over a year before the federal E-Sign law took effect.

E-Gov: There are serious questions about whether the current approach to taxation will work in a global economy, especially where transactions increasingly occur over the Internet. From my computer at home, I could, for instance, run a business located any place in the world, including tax havens. Do you believe we need to start looking at completely different approaches to taxation and to other options for financing government?

Pataki: This is a question that is of concern to all states and cannot be resolved by anyone alone. Clearly, every government will need to look at its tax structure, both the collection and use of tax dollars, as taxpayers will begin to expect their tax dollars to perform differently. My initial reaction is that New York is against taxing the Internet, however, we are entering uncharted territory and need to explore new and creative ways of dealing with these issues in the new economy.

E-Gov: In New York, many people have viewed government reform as virtually synonymous with civil service reform, especially streamlining a maze of regulations directed at businesses. How much more do you believe needs to be done in this area? And in terms of e-government initiatives, will it be difficult to get all the different agencies pulling together in a common direction? What battles still lie ahead for you in bringing about all the reforms you believe are necessary?

Pataki: My Office for Technology (OFT) is working closely with our Department of Civil Service to update the traditional hiring and promotional practices to change the current paradigm, whereby the only way to get promoted is based on the number of staff an employee supervises. We've established a Work Force Development Committee to address these issues. That group includes staff from our Office of Employee Relations, Department of Civil Service, Division of Budget and the OFT. In 1998, my Civil Service commissioner was recognized as a "Public Official of the Year" by a national magazine for his efforts at civil service reform.

In addition to working to reform the regulations surrounding the civil service structure, we are also working to streamline the regulations for businesses. We see new business startups as a key driver of New York's e-economy. One of the things that we have done to foster startups both in technology and other business fields is to create Web presence that allows anyone to query a database that interactively, through a series of questions, determines the type of business being considered and provides the user with information regarding the permits and processes needed to get established. Nine agencies are working together to not only reduce the red tape and the redundant application processes, but are also helping us track which of the 85,000 queries made each year actually result in a new business. This extraordinary cooperation among agencies was facilitated by the arrival of Web-based technology.

Obstacles to the success of such projects are many, but we have found that if we work through them together using tools such as facilitated work sessions, we can identify and solve issues such as sharing of hardware and software resources, information transfers and even project management skills. There is obviously tremendous value in getting agencies to see past their own needs so that they can appreciate common requirements and parlay those into a statewide initiative. If they have worked together to develop the specifications then they become champions in implementing the results. An excellent example of getting the agencies to "pull together" is the work being done on my e-Commerce/e-Government initiative. This effort is being coordinated centrally through OFT, with each State agency having a designated representative to help ensure collaboration and cooperation among the varied parties.

E-Gov: One option that many states are considering in their e-government initiatives is outsourcing. Is outsourcing something that you see as a viable option for New York? Are there particular functions that might work better if they were outsourced?

Pataki: New York state is fortunate to have a very skilled and dedicated labor force, in addition to a strong existing infrastructure. Given that, there are still some functions that may be better handled through outsourcing to the private sector. Another option, which I favor, is that of public/private partnerships. The challenge of government in the 21st century is to utilize its resources as efficiently as possible to deliver the most cost-effective solution that best serves the public demand. Here in New York, we will select the model which best meets those challenges, through a balance of public/private solutions.

E-Gov: Has your program of government reform impacted on the way the state works with local governments in the region? Can you, for instance, point to any examples where the reforms have also helped to enhance local government? How might the relationship between state and local government be enhanced further in the future?

Pataki: When I established OFT in 1996, one of the first policy statements we released was a recognition that we had to do better in the way state worked with local government. The state was the 900-pound gorilla -- dropping computer hardware, software and applications that lacked interoperability into local government offices. It would be an understatement to say that that was not a good marketing plan -- a clerk sitting at a desk with three different brands of computer terminals from three different agencies was not an uncommon sight. With our move to a statewide intranet, and a goal of single-device Web browser access to transactions and integrated services, all of this is changing rapidly.

We also look for every opportunity to share knowledge and experiences in the IT arena among all levels of government. We routinely provide reviews for local government IT organizations at their request. These reviews focus primarily on organizational and functional requirements of local government technology shops. We have recently released a report entitled "Local Government IT Issues" on OFT's Web page. It shares observations regarding local government IT issues, from staffing to governance, out-sourcing to organizational structure. We hope sharing our common problems and striving to offer some solutions will foster a stronger relationship across all levels of government.

In this light, we support organizations such as the Local Government IT Director's Association and we are investing resources in customer relationship management, especially with local governments planning to connect to our statewide intranet or collaborate on other technology endeavors.

E-Gov: In your 2000 state of the state address, you talked a great deal about educational reform, and especially about what might be done to get the best possible teachers into schools. At least in theory, technology can now bring some the best in any field into any classroom. What role do you see technology playing in helping to foster an education system that can meet the needs of the 21st century? Should more emphasis be placed on getting more technology into the classroom and on training teachers to better utilize technology in their teaching?

Pataki: Learning does not have to be limited by walls or proximity. But it's not just about the technology. It's also about changing how we approach and design learning, and making these changes requires good teachers. We have provided record financial aid increases to our schools in each of the last three years. In the current fiscal year budget, educational technology aid more than doubled, growing from $25 million to $57 million. We are phasing in new competency requirements for our teachers.

Since I took office, we have wired almost every school in the state to the Internet. This is just the beginning of our efforts to close the digital divide. Our NY Wired initiative has helped build Internet connectivity in our schools. We've wired 3,100 schools for the Internet with the help of 25,000 volunteers across the state. In fact, I had the pleasure of returning to my elementary school to help wire the classroom I sat in as a child. We need to continue helping our teachers develop abilities to adopt technology as a new educational tool. In addition, our new Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research created in November 1999 will be fostering technology research and provide resources to our higher educational community in New York state.

We also need to ensure that we reach out to all of our children in New York state, so that no one is left out of the technology age. And as I said in my 2000 state of the state address, we need to attract the best "Teachers of Tomorrow" to work in our neediest schools. My 2000-01 budget included $25 million for this initiative. This new program will bring 50,000 qualified teachers into New York's schools over the next decade. In addition, this program will attract the best and brightest teachers by offering new incentive funding which will defray their educational expenses and provide a range of innovative training opportunities.

E-Gov: Reducing pollution and better environmental protection has been a priority for you, and you have gone so far as to suggest that "sound environmental policies are the foundation for our future." How can environmental protection co-exist with business development?

Pataki: In 1996, we began a program to promote the use of geographic information tools to assist state and local governments in meeting their decision-making needs. This program has led to the creation of a GIS data distribution framework, known as the New York State GIS Data Sharing Cooperative and an online GIS Clearinghouse. This year we introduced an application that provides access to GIS tools and data, including digital orthophotography via the Internet. The use of this technology is invaluable to the state and local governments in determining the best solutions to balance environmental and growth needs. For the first time in 20 years, New York's rate of job growth outpaced the national average for two years in a row. These trends are not mere coincidence, but strong evidence that environmental protection and economic development are goals that can, and must, be achieved simultaneously.

E-Gov: Given increasing globalization, how is the job of state government and especially the job of governor changing? How do you, as governor, measure how well you are doing?

Pataki: I think the role of government, and my role as leader of government in New York state is changing, and will continue to change as we enter this new millennium and witness electronic globalization. Government must be able to provide its citizens with the service and information they need, when and how they need it ... We in government need to be able to put ourselves "in the shoes" of the citizens and treat them as customers.

In New York state, bigger government is being replaced by smarter government. Now, more than ever, government needs to step up to the plate, understand and employ current technology, and continue to look for innovative ways to implement new technology. And we need to look beyond our own borders and anticipate the trends and changes going on all over the country and the world. The Internet is quickly removing all boundaries of time and place, and we must acknowledge and embrace that.

I see my role as governor as a very important part of this effort and I am committed to making New York state responsive to the needs of our citizens. Now is the time to look beyond today, beyond tomorrow, to govern with a vision of creating a future worthy of our children, and theirs.

I have been fortunate to be able to serve the people of the Empire State for six years. We have accomplished a great deal in moving New York forward in the electronic age, and we still have a great deal to do. New York has the expertise, in both academia and the private sector, to lead the world in science, technology and research. In fact, in this year's budget I have proposed a new, $1 billion high tech initiative to fund this research, working in collaboration with leading businesses and universities.

I think the best measurement of how well our state is doing, and in particular, how well I am serving the needs of New York, is to look beyond some of the more traditional measures, such as increased rates of growth, reduction in crimes, and look at some of the non-tangibles aspects: quality of life issues, abundance of ideas and innovations spawned here in New York, and renewing the spirit of this great state. I believe that how well I am doing my job today has a direct relationship to how well our children and grandchildren will be doing tomorrow.
Blake Harris Contributing Editor