February 28, 2006 By Government Technology
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is something of a conundrum. Outsiders tend to imagine Arkansas as primarily pastoral with an economy based largely on agriculture. Considering much of that description is true, many are surprised to discover that Huckabee is recognized across the country as a lead advocate of e-government services.
On the surface, a rustic lifestyle and high tech don't seem to mix well. Deeper analysis, however, suggests that the combination is symbiotic. Technology has advanced to the point where it binds people together instead of isolating the haves and have-nots.
Huckabee has long been aware that technology can bring government closer to the people instead of acting as barricade.
"In a rural state like Arkansas, technology erases the distance and makes the disadvantages become advantages," he said. "People can live in the mountains or on a lake and have peace and fresh air, yet be connected to the world."
Huckabee's activism in e-government proliferation propelled Arkansas to new heights, including a top-10 finish in the 2004 Digital States Survey -- a study conducted by the Center for Digital Government. Arkansas excelled in the four areas covered by the study -- service delivery, architecture and infrastructure, collaboration, and leadership.
Accolades and awards, however, are not worth the paper on which they're printed if the end product doesn't improve the lives of Arkansans -- which is why Huckabee never loses focus on his motivation for delivering e-government services.
"Our goal is to make every state service available online, from car tags to a hunting license to information and reservations in a state park," he said. "It saves time and money for our citizens, and keeps state government open 24/7."
As the first governor with a blog and online forum, Huckabee makes himself available to constituents in a way never before possible -- fostering relationships that traditional mediums don't allow.
"I have always believed that getting my message to the people directly was superior to having it edited and interpreted by newspapers," Huckabee said. "Being online means the message is clear and pure."
-- Chad Vander Veen
Terri Lynn Land
Secretary of State
In a little more than two years, the Real ID Act takes effect, and much of the sweeping new law remains undefined and ambiguous. In addition, portions of the act that are well defined pose a significant challenge to state governments.
The act was passed by Congress in spring 2005, and inflicts federal regulations on the design, issuance and management of state drivers' licenses. The Real ID Act will turn a state license, for all practical purposes, into a federal ID card. When all unknowns are added, complying with the legislation becomes even more onerous.
Such worries, however, are not stopping Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who's charging ahead despite the potential hidden obstacles. Land said getting her state ready means communicating the changes to all Michigan citizens. "We are trying to prepare the public with the basic concept and a message of, 'At a minimum, you will need to locate your birth certificate,'" she said. "We are spreading this message via our 154 branch offices, our Web site and the media. We have been talking about this with community, and legislative, congressional and industry leaders across the state."
Michigan is also represented on the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators' Real ID Act committee, and Land's staff participates in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) meetings designed to keep the states appraised of the DHS's progress, and provide a mechanism for feedback.
Land is taking a leadership role in Real ID compliance -- she recently proposed a dual-purpose driver's license. "Requirements for a Real ID compliant driver's license are very similar to the documentation necessary to obtain a passport -- a requirement of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Therefore I am proposing eliminating the need for a passport by using a compliant driver's license as an acceptable document for gaining re-entry into Michigan. If the DHS agrees with my proposal, I think Michigan and all states bordering Canada will benefit. Our economies depend on our ability to secure our borders without hampering commerce."
-- Chad Vander Veen
A Full Plate
In addition to the six major IT initiatives already going strong in Houston, CIO Richard Lewis' hands were full dealing with the fallout from 2005's hurricane season.
Displaced New Orleans residents streamed to Texas to temporarily live in Houston. Lewis and his staff logged myriad hours working with the Red Cross to create online missing persons' registries and databases to match Katrina victims with Houston homes. Now the city is close to going live with a $10 million case-management system that will allow the Houston municipal court system to eliminate paper, Lewis said.
"I've assumed the acting municipal court chief clerk position in addition to my IT responsibilities," he said, adding that Houston's municipal court system will become one of the largest paperless class-C misdemeanor court systems in the country.
The city also is in the build-out phase of a $23 million ERP implementation, Lewis said, and financials and procurement are set to start operation on July 1 -- the beginning of the city's fiscal year.
"We're really under the gun on that," he said. "But we've got a great team on the field. That's going to be a big deal."
Lewis was surprised to learn, after a network assessment a few years ago, that 90 percent of the 300 routers and 800 switches in the city's network were beyond their manufacturers' support life. Houston is now in the second of a three-phase network upgrade to standardize routers and switches.
"Governments really don't do a good job of asset management," he said. "The IT environment in the city is highly centralized. I have control of about a third of the operating expense, but I control the entire capital budget. Sixty percent of the operating expense is in the Police Department and the Public Works Department.
"Those two departments have CTOs that report to me, as well as to their department directors, so I can try to control most of the big stuff without having to own it," Lewis continued. "But it does make for a challenging environment."
-- Shane Peterson
Sarasota County, Fla.
Jim Ley, Sarasota County, Fla., administrator is half of the duo that penned a new chapter in the book of government consolidation.
Ley started consolidating some processes that Sarasota County and the Sarasota County Schools performed separately prior to the appointment of Dr. Gary Norris as superintendent of the Sarasota County Public Schools.
After Norris' appointment, the two hit it off and became a team that would see to fruition the development of a single CIO for both branches of government. As a result, the county and the school district share IT functions, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing both operations to run more efficiently.
"You get to share the value of the investments, avoiding costs being absorbed by any one organization," Ley said.
For years, Ley attempted to work out joint operations with the previous superintendent, with little success. "Frankly I think the superintendent at that time was playing to community desires, seeking not to create any rock-the-boat scenarios, and not much happened," he said.
Then Norris arrived.
"We have a similar administrative view. We are both trusting people, and we hold the same values personally and about the purpose of government," Ley said. "Gary was disturbed to see that during our cable franchise negotiations, the school administrators at the time [in 1997] had failed to work with us to require connection of all schools."
With a new vision for schools and the county, Ley and Norris renegotiated the county's franchise agreement with the cable company, and included the construction of a community fiber-optic network and consolidation of the CIO position.
The schoolroom experience today is an interactive one, Ley said. "Electronic boards, teachers with microphones, and soon, cameras that will allow parents to drop into their children's experience."
-- Jim McKay
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