May 95

Situation: The National Performance Review proposed creating an electronic infrastructure that would link all levels of government into a single system.

Solution: The U.S. Postal Service is defining how to provide access to government information and services using kiosks.

Jurisdictions: Colorado, California, Texas, New Jersey.

Vendors: U.S. Postal Service

Contacts: The U.S. Postal Service has information about its kiosk program on the Internet at: www.usps.gov

Tod Newcombe

News Editor

Get your index finger ready. Touch-screen kiosks soon may be popping up by the thousands in cities and towns across the country, providing interactive government services for citizens. Sometime later this year, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will begin the mammoth project with a pilot test of a small network of information kiosks in the Washington, D.C., area.

Within two years of completing the pilot, the federal government, under the direction of the USPS, hopes to begin deploying as many as 10,000 kiosks at an eventual cost that could reach as much as $956 million, according to a draft report from the Interagency Kiosk Committee. The kiosks would deliver a host of federal, state and local government services via the now familiar touch-screen, computer-in-a-box format, using images, video and audio for navigation and instruction.

"We're seeking to develop kiosks that are user-friendly, functional in that they let citizens interact with government, and come in at a cost that makes sense," said Robert Reisner, vice president for USPS technology applications. Exactly what kind of technology and infrastructure will be used to bring this about is still in research and development, he added.

The USPS' role in leading the charge toward a national kiosk system came about when the Government Information Technology Services Working Group approached USPS and several other federal agencies about how government could become more accessible through technology. Agencies discussed a number of concepts, including electronic bulletin boards and 800 numbers, but Reisner said the USPS took the lead with kiosks.

STATE RESPONSE

States with their own kiosk systems have, in general, praised USPS' initial efforts to construct a national system. Hal Ferber, project manager of the Info/California kiosk system, said he hopes the Postal Service becomes an energizing force that spreads the kiosk vision throughout government.

In New Jersey, where the Department of Labor is testing six kiosks that provide job information, the reaction to the Postal Service's project was positive. "We feel the kiosk concept is a good idea that makes people comfortable with using technology to access information," said David R. Crane, director of the Office of Publications and Special Projects.

He cautioned that kiosks need to be in locations where people can use them nearly round-the-clock, and not in places, such as post offices, that shut their doors at 5 p.m.. Crane said the most popular kiosk in New Jersey's JobsPlus system is located in a mall where it's used heavily during evenings and weekends.

The report advocates placing kiosks in a variety of public locations, including post offices.

A stronger concern about federal deployment of a national kiosk system came from Bob Rantschler, technical director of Project Colorado, a five-kiosk system serving communities in the Rocky Mountain state. While pleased that the Postal Service is taking the lead in moving the country toward a national system of kiosks, Rantschler worried that local communities will end up with the least say in the kinds of applications that the kiosks will provide.

People do most of their government business at the local level, so it makes sense that local leaders have a strong say in what applications their citizens will use, explained Rantschler. "The key to success is to achieve buy-in at the