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 hope is that government will recognize the real innovation will have to come from the states."
Leavitt added that Utah is reworking its communications systems to link federal, state and local law enforcement authorities. The governor also launched the Utah Homeland Security Task Force.
Leavitt is especially aware of how crucial intergovernmental cooperation is for homeland security as he prepares the state to host the 2002 Winter Olympics. The global event, and the threats accompanying it, has given Utah an opportunity to consider some of the security issues that now confront all states. Leavitt expressed high confidence in the systems developed to create a safe environment for the Winter Games.
Join the Team
Kansas also launched an early effort to synchronize justice and law enforcement systems with the federal sector. According to CIO Don Heiman, the Justice Department and the FBI have shown an interest in the state's integrated justice system that began with an effort to create a central repository of data. "We wanted to grant as much access as our enterprise needed," Heiman said. "But FBI data is part of the overall architecture and it had to be hardened to meet the FBI standard. That is very difficult to implement over the Internet."
Working with funding from a Justice Department grant, Kansas IT officials chose the most challenging route and met FBI requirements. "It made sense to invest in the technology and get on the cutting-edge as a way of assuring our other users that their information would be very well protected," Heiman explained
The Kansas network relies on PKI technology that creates a sophisticated system for authentication of users. Working primarily with Entrust, access to information is controlled through the use of "crypto cards" that allow various levels of access. Verisign also contributed PKI expertise. "We invested millions of dollars in it," Heiman said. "We really wanted to protect those FBI files and at the same time, cut telecommunication costs. That was one way of doing it."
The integrated criminal justice system was a recognized success, receiving several awards and approval from the FBI. Heiman said several other states have inquired about the project and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers is considering replication of the system for a national template. Admitting that funding is a continuing challenge, Heiman suggests the federal government might be wise to invest in the states. "In an interesting way, the federal government could drive security through their funding - federal grant money," he said. "They could get faster coverage through the states than they can through their own internal structure."
State of Preparedness
States have the advantage of hand-on experience. "We are between the feds and the local units of government, but we have high touch to the local units," Heiman observed. "We are almost in a brokerage situation." He added that history supports the idea that former governors who ascend to top federal offices are open to input from the states. "You see it in presidents that have been governors - Carter, Reagan and now Bush," he observed. "They have the perspective that reflects an appreciation of local units, of small town America."
The NGA's Scheppach is also hopeful that state experience will translate into action. "What is necessary on the security front is cooperation within the federal government itself and then with state and local government," he said. "There has always been somewhat of a disconnect even though 95 percent of law enforcement is state and local." He added that 40 states have already begun to cross boundaries by creating a coalition to share emergency equipment and resources.
Thom Rubel is director of the NGA's state information technology program and for the past three years has focused on information sharing and integrated justice systems. "There is a lot of experience at the state level, both good and bad, to lay the groundwork," he reported. He is hoping the data gathered by NGA's team of state officials, representing law enforcement, corrections and the judiciary, will provide national leaders with a picture of the kind of governance structure that will integrate dispersed entities and services.
"Based on some of these experiences there is a good base set for a broad federal look at the issue," he suggested. "Most recently we've begun a discussion on communication and interoperability that states are doing in police, fire, emergency management and between jurisdictions. Security was always an issue, but before it was an issue of privacy, not integrity."
Rubel said several states were leading the way in the justice arena, including Kentucky, Michigan, Indiana and Oklahoma. "There is a much more focused dialog on where the best practices are," he added.
Late in October, officials from the federal, state and local level participated in a teleconference to examine how the new call for homeland security might impact electronic government. A representative from the Office of Management and Budget said one of Ridge's long-term goals is the "integration of geospacial data and knowledge-management systems." Al Sherwood, Utah's chief privacy officer, emphasized the critical need for intergovernmental collaboration. "Data integration becomes particularly difficult at the state level unless it is going on at the federal level as well," he said.
It appears the federal government is getting the message. Not only is Ridge setting the tone for cooperation, the events of Sept. 11 demonstrated the interdependence of governmental bodies. Recognition that states and local governments can contribute to a national solution is growing. This new climate in which boundaries are erased and partnerships are forged may be yet another strength to emerge from the nation's tragedy.