Government Technology Spectrum

Government Technology Spectrum

by / April 16, 2002
Tax Collection Made Easy
MADISON, Wis. - A handful of states are starting to outsource sales-tax collection as part of multi-state effort to modernize and simplify sales tax administration. Wisconsin, Kansas, North Carolina and Michigan tested and certified a system developed by Taxware International, and they are now using it to collect sales taxes at the point of purchase.
The outsourcing pilot is part of a broader initiative to simplify sales-tax collection known as the Streamlined Sales Tax Project. "We started to plan for the pilot because we wanted to do two things: We wanted to show that states could work together, and we also wanted to test the technology model that we were proposing within the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, called the Certified Service Provider," said Diane Hardt, who co-chairs the project's steering committee.
In essence, the system is a transaction server that connects, via the Web, with a merchant's computers to automate tax collection at the time of a sale. Taxware International currently is culling its customer base for volunteers to use the new process.
"We'll test this pilot for probably six to 12 months, and, eventually, when states adopt all of the legislation that is proposed by the sales-tax simplification project, then we'll probably go to a full-fledged system and basically start with an RFP all over again," Hardt said.
She added that vendor is working with e-commerce firms that conduct business in multiple states.
"Taxware has literally gone in and had to integrate with their tax-collection systems," Hardt said. "[The firms] were using Taxware software to do their tax-calculation package, and now they're using this entire system to do their tax calculation, as well as their filing."
The outsourcing project is one facet of the Streamlined Sales Tax Project, in which 38 states are now taking part. Nineteen of those states have enacted legislation proposed by the project that will help simplify sales-tax systems.

Riding the Red Bullet
LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County is using wireless technology to give public transit users a better idea of when their buses will arrive and to cut travel time once those riders are on board.
The county's new priority bus service, Metro Rapid, uses the area's computerized traffic signal control system to move special red-painted buses through intersections faster. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) also developed a passenger information system that uses wireless electronic displays at bus stops to tell riders how long they will wait for the next bus.
MTA designed Metro Rapid to make riding the bus more attractive. A demonstration project implemented on two of L.A.'s most heavily traveled corridors in June 2000 reduced travel time by 25 percent and boosted bus ridership by 30 percent. MTA constructed 48 new high-tech bus kiosks along its Wilshire-Whittier and Ventura Boulevard routes for the demonstration.
The project's success stems, in part, from using the Automated Traffic Surveillance and Control (ATSAC) system operated by Los Angeles' Department of Transportation to coordinate the movement of buses throughout the county. ATSAC controls traffic lights at more than 3,000 intersections, monitors the location of Metro Rapid buses and relays arrival information to LED displays mounted at Metro Rapid bus stations.
MTA sends Metro Rapid bus schedules to the transportation department each morning. Transponders mounted on the buses document the vehicles' progress via sensors installed at intersections. Throughout the day, an ATSAC computer compares bus schedule information with the actual location of each bus.
When a bus falls behind schedule, the computer keeps the traffic signals in front of it green, allowing the vehicle to catch up. The system also calculates when the bus will reach each stop and transmits that information to bus station displays.

Kentucky Goes Wireless
LEXINGTON, Ky. - In what state officials call the first step toward developing an enterprisewide wireless strategy, Kentucky signed a statewide contract for mobile voice services with Cingular Wireless in August.
Officials say the contract will improve wireless coverage throughout the state, simplify pricing, create a formal account-management process and expand network services. Executive branch agencies, which currently use about 4,000 mobile telephones, must use the contract unless they receive an exception by the Governor's Office for Technology.
"We modeled this after a wire-line bid that we did years ago that created the Kentucky information highway, where we have a single point of contact to order services," said David Ballard, executive director of infrastructure services for the technology office. "Before, for wireless voice services, an agency might have had five different vendors; now, they have one."
The new contract took effect Oct. 1, and Ballard estimates it will reduce the state's cost of wireless voice services by 25 percent. The contract also is open to local jurisdictions.

Iowa to Alumni: Come Back
DES MOINES, Iowa - Like many states, Iowa is worried about its workforce. Facing a numbers crunch, Iowa hopes to lure former residents back to the state by showcasing attractive job opportunities.
"Our statistics determined that as the baby boomers are retiring, we're going to be short of a working population," said Nancy Pedersen, communications manager of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. "We need to retain Iowans and recruit people to Iowa."
Several state agencies have teamed with private-sector representatives to form the Iowa Human Resource Recruitment Consortium. One of the organization's goals is to show one-time Iowans what the state now has to offer.
"Some of the things that we're doing is invitations to receptions in various parts of the country," Pedersen said. "We've been to Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, New York and Chicago."
Recently, some 6,000 Iowa alumni were invited to receptions in Dallas and Austin, Texas, according to Kay Snyder, marketing team leader for the consortium. Iowa Gov. Thomas Vilsack uses the events to meet attendees and pitch his state's employment opportunities. In addition, Iowa biotech, aerospace and IT firms set up booths at the receptions to recruit new workers.
Snyder said the events were intended to help Iowa reconnect with residents who have settled elsewhere. "What we needed to do was - let them know what opportunities are available in Iowa today and show them what has changed since they left," She said.

Underwater Eyes
ST. CLOUD, Minn. - A tragic drowning during a swimming class in 1999 prompted city officials to search for a better way to protect citizens using public pools.
St. Cloud found a solution in the form of software that sees under water. Developed by a French company, the software uses images taken by underwater and overhead cameras to give lifeguards a 3-D view of what's happening beneath the pool's surface.
The city installed the system at four schools this summer, said Mike Forer, St. Cloud's environmental health and safety supervisor. "The sense of security in our swimming pools will be raised to a level that we would never have been able to achieve otherwise," he said.
Images generated by the system are so detailed that users can easily count one-inch square tiles lining the sides of the pools, according to Forer. "The system can pinpoint where an individual is in trouble," he said. "The lifeguard doesn't have to dive into the pool and search an area - he or she knows exactly where to go."
The system's accuracy is based on detailed studies of a pool's interior.
"When we had the pools drained and had the holes drilled into the walls of the pools where the cameras were going to go, we had a survey company come in, and they had to do a survey of the interior of our pools," he said. "Depending on the size of the pool, the surveyors plot anywhere from 250 points of reference to 350 points of reference. These measurements were calibrated into the software system."

Drive Your Message Home
An Australian telecommunications company rolled out a way for drivers to communicate in real time in October.
The service, called DriverSMS, allows Aussie motorists to communicate with each other via short message service text messages. Drivers visit a Web site to register for the service, and their vehicle license-plate number is used as a unique identifier that is converted into an e-mail/SMS address.
According to the DriverSMS Web site, the benefits of the service could include sending and receive messages in real time with other drivers; receiving radar alerts from oncoming cars; getting help from other drivers, such as directions; receiving warnings about accidents or dangerous conditions ahead; or getting a note from a passer-by telling you your parking meter is about to expire.
The company also said personal information is kept confidential and only a sender's license plate number is displayed in the from field of the message. In addition, the company said, recipients can elect to ban unwelcome callers.
Messages can be sent free from the DriverSMS Web site via SMS, or via a WAP-compatible phone or PDA. Because messages are sent and received in real time, it is possible for drivers to communicate with each other via SMS text messages while traveling. Users can also communicate in real time via the chat room on the DriverSMS Web site, the company said.

Putting Networks in a New Light
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - An MIT scientist has developed a way to transmit data through flickering fluorescent lights. The technology, which uses existing light fixtures, quickly creates a medium-bandwidth network capable of broadcasting information throughout a building.
Steven Leeb, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, calls his invention "Talking Lights" and expects it to reach the consumer market in about a year.
The crux of the Talking Lights system is a mechanism that replaces the conventional ballast in a fluorescent light fixture. "You install a Talking Lights ballast, and that ballast will modulate the arc in the light so that it still looks like a normal illumination source," Leeb said. "But a receiving piece of electronics, basically a little optical radio, can look up at the light and decode the flickering in the light, even though the human eye can't see that flickering."
Some information - perhaps location data for a particular spot in a building - could be permanently burned into the ballasts, he said. Other material could be up-linked to the lights through a building's existing power lines.
Leeb acknowledged that the system wouldn't be blindingly fast. "A good ballpark estimate is that it's the same bandwidth as an analog, regular-service telephone line," he said. "Whatever you're used to being able to do with a modem in your home on a conventional phone line, you could do in a Talking Lights network."
The network will support e-mail applications and Web browsing, Leeb said. Potential uses also include outfitting people with small receivers that would pick up pages and other audio messages from the lights.

Computer-Related Jobs Decline
WASHINGTON, D.C. - August's higher-than-expected unemployment rate was fueled by the first decline in the number of computer services jobs in more than a decade and a similar drop in the communications job market.
The federal government reported that the August jobless rate was 4.9 percent - the highest point in four years and a sharp increase over July's 4.5 percent.
After a growth slowdown over the past several months, the number of computer-services jobs declined by 5,000 in August; the first time that sector has shown an employment loss since the late 1980s, according to the Labor Department.
The category includes computer programmers, software developers, information retrieval services, computer rental services, maintenance and various other positions, said Labor Department economist Rachel Krantz.
The communications sector lost 8,000 jobs during August for the biggest loss in that category since 1995. Telephone services, including mobile communications services, accounted for the largest share of those job losses, said John Mullins, another Labor Department economist.
"I can't say for sure what the reason is for the weakness in communications employment," Mullins told Newsbytes. "It seems reasonable that it might be connected to the decline in the dot-com economy."
While specific figures for high-tech and dot-com job losses in August are not available, those industries account for a fair number of lost jobs, said Allan Hoffman, a tech-jobs expert with - Newsbytes