April 16, 2002 By Steve Towns
New Jersey, Virginia and a handful of counties joined forces last year under a project dubbed "Government Without Boundaries" to create a model for national information "channels" capable of linking citizens to government Web content and service applications anywhere in the nation. Participants view the first product of that collaboration - a prototype of a calendar of parks and recreation events for multiple jurisdictions - as a test-bed for developing the technology and management practices required for seamless electronic government.
"We see Government Without Boundaries as creating a means for citizens to do away with concerning themselves over where certain services or information are located," said Bette Dillehay, deputy secretary of technology for Virginia. "It creates a framework for moving into what is truly an e-government model that allows people to work without a silo effect."
For now, however, the goals are more modest. Participants are cobbling together an online calendar of events for parks and recreation facilities operated by New Jersey; Monmouth County, N.J.; the commonwealth of Virginia; the Virginia counties of Fairfax and Virginia Beach; and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The group focused on park information because it holds built-in motivation for intergovernmental cooperation, said John Clark, a program director for the Office of Intergovernmental Solutions within the U.S. General Services Administration. "There is a natural incentive to provide visibility to recreation areas because it brings in tourism and tourism brings in dollars to the local economy," said Clark, whose office coordinates the Government Without Boundaries project. "We're trying to use this channel as a guinea pig to come up with a framework that can be replicated in other channels."
Clark intended to show-off a prototype of the channel and recruit new participants for the project at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers meeting scheduled for September. However, that meeting was postponed following terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The group is now assessing the best way to attract more state and local governments to the project, he said. "We would like to get other jurisdictions involved so we can say this is not just a mid-Atlantic state project. And the more involvement we have, the better we will be able to come up with core data elements that will be useful to everybody."
The project must clear a series of technical and management hurdles to expand beyond its current scope.
Clark and others see XML technology and various forms of metadata as key to feeding content from a jumble of incompatible databases throughout the country into a central repository. They're also beginning to confront the task of developing a method for organizing and indexing the data they will receive.
But the bigger job has little to do with technology, said Greg Lambard, special assistant to New Jersey CIO Wendy Rayner. "I don't think anyone believes that technology is the hard part," he said. "It is certainly the people issues - working with all of these different jurisdictions and trying to get them to come on board."
Flexibility will be key to that effort, said Lambard, whose state is hosting the parks and recreation prototype. He expects the next phase of the project to offer varying degrees of participation. Jurisdictions without an existing parks calendar could use the Government Without Boundaries system as
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