Imagine you're elderly or disabled. You live alone and have no family. You feel there is probably someone in government who could help, but you're not sure how to find them. You pick up the telephone directory and look through the index. In metropolitan areas, there may be 20 or more pages to thumb through - city, county, state and federal agencies - all with their own area of expertise.
Where do you start?
For many people the answer is "you don't." And it's not just the elderly or the infirm that feel this way, but working men and women too.
As Rick Schremp - executive director of Project Colorado - sees it, people seeking government services often face "long waiting lines, difficulties with traveling especially long distances, finding parking spaces, uncertainty about which office is the appropriate service-provider in any given case, busy telephone lines, and clerks who can only respond to a narrow range of questions." Shrinking budgets and increasing demands have further complicated the situation, making it necessary to find new, innovative solutions.
"Some agencies are using technology," said Schremp, "but on their own, without integrating with other agencies. This is a reinforcement of the old paradigm. It's government following through on the dispersal of services."
Project Colorado is a cooperative effort involving local, state and federal agencies - as well as the private sector - aimed at providing citizens with one-stop access to government services. The project came about as a result of the National Performance Review's challenge to agencies to use technology to make government more accessible. Bob Woods, an associate administrator for the General Services Administration, Schremp of the Social Security Administration and several others began meeting over a year ago to discuss how to make one-stop government access work.
Those discussions lead to Project Colorado, which has grown to include the Social Security Administration, the state of Colorado, the University of Colorado at Denver, the Los Alamos National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories, Colorado SuperNet, the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the city of Broomfield, Colo. Each agency or level of government funds its own piece of the project.
"The whole issue is to focus on the use of technology as an alternative way to provide services," said Schremp. "The more you look at the status quo, the more you see that it doesn't have to be that way."
According to Schremp, about 80 percent of the work entails gaining agency "buy in" because many government offices are accustomed to working alone, a habit which can take a while to break. Bob Ranpschler, technical director for Project Colorado and an assistant to the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Colorado at Denver, notes that the tendency of agencies to "stovepipe" is even built into federal law.
"As I understand it, back in the time of the Budget Act of 1974, there was a concern that the administration was taking money allocated for one agency and using it with another," said Ranpschler. "In order to stop that, Congress passed legislation mandating that money allocated for one agency be used in that agency." This had the unintended effect of reinforcing barriers between agencies and reduced the benefits available through cooperation and cross pollination.
Project Colorado is challenging that style of government and establishing a technical basis for agencies to work together. In this effort, it has benefited from work already done by others. InTouch, a state effort that produced a kiosk system used by the Departments of Revenue, Natural Resources and Social Services, is being used as the backbone for Project Colorado. At the local end, the city of Broomfield already had its own project underway.
"For us, the whole thing started out as an electronic directory for our new city offices," said Ron Heimbecher, the manager of Information Service for the city of Broomfield. "We decided that if [we were going] to invest in the hardware, we might as well see what else we could do with it. We decided on a map of the city that would show all the parks and then show a list of what's available in each park."
At about the time Heimbecher was looking around for help building his applications, he was invited to sit in on a meeting of Project Colorado. After he explained what he wanted to do, Broomfield was brought on as Project Colorado's first test site.
With local, state and federal agency participation, Project Colorado began to focus on providing a common platform. "Our current aim is to build a sound platform on which anything can be built," said Schremp. "When each agency or level of government works on their own electronic system, the best we can hope for is 'casino style' government." In contrast, uniting projects will result in better, friendlier service for the citizen.
"The citizen wouldn't have to understand what level of government he is looking at," said Ranpschler. "For example, in the Broomfield pilot project, there is a button that says 'Recreation'. That may cover various levels of government The user doesn't even have to know."
Project Colorado's underlying system is designed to encompass multiple delivery methods. Three avenues are currently envisioned, the first of which are citizen service centers. "Eventually, we envision citizen service centers all over the community [and country]," said Schremp. "Whether the person walks into a center in Sioux Falls, Iowa, or Denver, Colo., there will be a consistency there, a common platform." Schremp estimates that one citizen service center will be needed for every 3,000 people.
As bandwidth becomes more widely available, the same set of services will be delivered directly to the home PC for those who want that kind of access.
The third avenue is designed to help those people described by one elderly gentleman Schremp spoke with as "invisible Americans" - the elderly, those in remote rural areas, those without easy access to phones, the disabled, etc. Government field representatives could visit such people, carrying a satellite connected portable PC that would deliver the same set of online services anywhere, at any time. The field representative would not be limited to either state or local services, but would access - through Project Colorado's network - the full range of government services.
PUTTING IT TO THE TEST
Broomfield's first test of the system is expected to go online this month with additional services coming online later in the year. Broomfield's city limits fall within four counties, so it provided a perfect challenge for integrating services for a variety of government levels and interests.
According to Heimbecher, working with Project Colorado has made it both easier and more difficult for him. "The scope of the project has made it easier to go to the City Council and say 'I need this to make this happen'", he said. "On the other hand, working with several agencies of the state and federal government has lengthened things a bit because there are more steps to go through."
In the long run, working with Project Colorado will also mean that Heimbecher will be able to offer transaction processing - such as paying speeding tickets or utility bills - sooner than originally anticipated. Heimbecher now sees such services going online in 1995, whereas his original plans called for it to happen later.
The city of Broomfield will offer local information on jobs, city schools, libraries and elections, such as ward and precinct matters. The system will also provide maps of the new City Hall and provide directions on how to find city offices. The state will offer such things as Department of Revenue information and child care facilities. Federal participation will include information on federal jobs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Many other applications are under consideration, including IRS information and forms, disability benefits, Social Security benefits and verification, birth certificates, driver's license renewal, native American tribal information, fishing and hunting licenses, recycling information, legislative information, transportation routing, local government meetings, change of address, paying parking or traffic tickets, etc.
Because uniting different agencies with diverse interests is not just a matter of technology, but also involves implementation and marketing issues, part of Project Colorado's mandate is to gain an understanding of those elements.
"We will also look at things in terms of how the system is marketed and introduced," said Schremp. "Hopefully, it will serve as a model to be duplicated, not only here in Colorado, but around the U.S."
SERVICE TO THE CITIZEN SUMMIT
Project Colorado is taking the first step in making its technology available by sponsoring the Service to the Citizen Summit February 22 and 23 in Denver. Info California, the U.S. Post Office, the Western Indian Council and others have already partnered with Project Colorado to put on the Summit, which will focus on technology standards, the Americans with Disabilities Act, gaining cooperation between agencies and other issues.
Schremp hopes the Summit will become an annual event, bringing together the brightest and the best involved in providing one-stop access to government services. Already, with minimal announcements about the conference, Project Colorado has received inquiries from Europe, and Schremp expects the 1,000 available seats to fill rapidly.
As Schremp sees it, one-stop government access will be common in five years, whether through citizen service centers, home PCs, or satellite-enabled field units. He's hopeful that Project Colorado will provide a "peak" at what the future will look like.
For more information on the Summit, call Cathilea Robinett at 916/932-1300.