One of the goals of electronic government has been to change the relationship and experience that citizens have with government. Slowly, we began to see evidence of this happening as states and local governments created online services that eliminated the need for people to stand in lines or juggle reams of paperwork. Access to the inner workings of government also increased as legislative sessions migrated to the Internet and lawmakers set up Web sites to provide information to constituents.
States led the charge in this digital revolution, making government more responsive and navigable than ever before. It is at the state and local levels, after all, that citizens have their most immediate and critical experience with government. Now, as America faces the challenge of homeland security and information management, the models developed by states may play a critical national role. Successful state applications will influence America's future, as will state leaders who have risen to prominence in the federal sector.
The most obvious examples are President George W. Bush, former governor of Texas, and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, who now serves as director of Homeland Security. Other cabinet-level appointments who distinguished themselves as governors include Christine Tod Whitman, head of the EPA; Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson; and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
In addition to hands-on experience, such as managing major natural disasters, the contributions these former state leaders can bring to their federal posts may be augmented by political and economic changes that accompany an America at war. Analysts are predicting that government will become increasingly involved in managing many aspects of American life, such as taking over certain security responsibilities and creating new policies governing Internet use and access.
Ridge initiated his tenure in October by stating that governments at all levels would be required to work together, that a truce would be called in the traditional turf wars among agencies and branches of government. He also highlighted the importance of technology in his mission to enhance homeland security.
According to the National Governors Association (NGA), Ridge's colleagues at the state level are on board. On the day of the attacks, the association was holding its regional meeting on emergency response. "The people who work in this area have always said that we are unprepared," said Ray Scheppach, executive director of the NGA. "It was a potentially serious problem that emergency preparedness people have always been concerned about."
There has long been awareness of the immediacy of state experience. "The good news is that these people are [familiar with] crisis management. They have dealt with hurricanes, Three Mile Island and across the board on issues. They have a lot of experience in how to get things done," Scheppach said.
Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a former chairman of the NGA who currently serves on the group's executive committee, hopes the infusion of state talent at the federal level can streamline and simplify processes.
"The single most difficult barrier for coordinated state action is an over-prescriptive federal government," Leavitt said. "States begin to move forward on systems and the federal government will prescribe the need for reports and output that is simply way down the curve on efficiency. And, it makes it so complicated that it discourages some states from being aggressive."
States Lead the Way
Many states have proven their ability to develop effective integrated systems that cross agency boundaries. In most cases, this was achieved because of executive leadership. Leavitt believes his colleagues need to assume the same role in the new collaborative homeland security effort. "Governors have to be the motivating force pushing the sometimes-recalcitrant bureaucracy to innovate," he said. "As we meet that obligation, we need to do it in a way that provides for coordination of functions on a national basis. My