California Net Cruise

California has assumed a leadership role among states when it comes to making government information available on the Internet.

by / April 30, 1996
California has assumed a leadership role among states when it comes to making government information available on the Internet.

"There has been a lot of interest surrounding what we're doing on the Internet," said John Thomas Flynn, California CIO. "The Web sites are products of the hard work of some very dedicated people that have responded to Gov. Wilson's challenge to all of us to fundamentally change the way government does business. The Internet is an important part of our strategy to reach out to citizens." The importance is clear with a quick glance at the directory. The number of agencies online is staggering. There is no such thing as a quick visit to the California site, there is simply too much information. It is even more impressive when you realize that the first Web server was established at the Teale Data Center less than three years ago.

According to Webmaster Sue Rodger, "Our first effort was to set up a Web site to help agencies communicate. In the past year there has been a big push toward providing public access as well as helping agencies work together."

There is probably no site with broader public appeal than one that publishes legislative information. There are three such sites in California: the State Senate , the State Assembly and the Legislative Counsel .

The Senate was the first system online and includes extensive information about members, committees, hearing schedules and links to the e-mail sites of members. The Assembly site features a virtual tour of the state Capitol as well as member and committee information and hearing schedules.

The Legislative Counsel site is the official site for California legislative information. The site provides a full-text search of all bills, laws and statutes.

According to Tom Dolce, a systems software specialist at the Counsel, the site is based on an FTP site. "We use Perl scripts to mark up the files on the fly. The data is current because we update it every night." Currency of information is one of the powerful tools provided by the Web.

One of the most practical sites is a cooperative effort between Caltrans and Maxwell Laboratories . Realtime traffic conditions are reported online. Other sites that involve public-private partnerships include those recently announced by Secretary of State Bill Jones. Secretary Jones announced three sites. The Secretary of State home page includes election information as well as various other functions of the Secretary's office. It will eventually include access to corporate filing information, data from state archives and campaign finance information.

The Primary Election server is a joint effort with Digital Equipment Corp. that provides voters with an electronic version of the state's official ballot pamphlet, immediate electronic returns as they are available from the Secretary of State's office and election statistics. The California Online Voter Guide is a cooperative effort with the California Voter Foundation that provides a nonpartisan guide to information about statewide ballot measures as well as presidential, congressional, legislative and local candidates running in California.

Carol Whiteside, director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Office of the Governor, suggests that Internet technology represents a great opportunity. "There is a growing expectation among younger people about accessing information that we need to be prepared to meet. We are also very concerned about access in the rural areas of the state where there is high unemployment and resource-based jobs that are not coming back. This technology is extremely important in these areas as an economic development tool because no new businesses will be able to survive without being online."

Other sites that provide direct utility to citizens include the Franchise Tax Board site that provides access to all current tax forms and publications, and the Contractors' State License Board site which allows users to check the license status of a contractor they may be considering hiring.

No article about California Web efforts would be complete without mention of the Natural Resources site CERES . This site includes a wealth of data about California natural resources, including flood information, photos, maps and, most recently, online videos at a new site . In addition, Bay-Delta which includes fishing information, delta environmental information and current conditions. (Government Technology, September 95.)

The future of the Web has many exciting initiatives for California. There are efforts under way -- such as intranets -- that will expand the use of the Internet. Lee Mosbrucker, Internet administrator at the Health and Welfare Data Center, said, "We are working with 30 home pages from different departments with essentially one goal, and that is to expedite public access. There are several departments planning intranets as a way to communicate in a secure fashion and improve archiving for departments."

Also planned by the Department of General Services (DGS) is an expanded effort to bring contract information online. Its site includes bid advertising which has reduced a 3 to 4 week advertising cycle to a few days, and a form which allows ads to be placed online. According to P.K. Agarwal, office chief, office of Information Services within DGS, "We hope to retain a leadership position in this area. Our goal is to continue to reduce the bid cycle and improve the way we do business with the private sector."

Clearly California's vision is to actively use the Internet to distribute information to citizens. According to John Jewell, assistant director of Information Services at the California Research Bureau, whose agency helps with the coordination of the Internet effort, "We've got a process in place and we're doing it as a team. There is a tremendous spirit of cooperation among agencies and individuals working on the Web sites."

The California Internet effort is evidence of the power of teamwork.

Michael Nevins is a co-founder and director of State Technologies Inc., a nonprofit research group. State Technologies publishes the Web service Government On Line: .

E-mail address: .