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."

ONE-STOP SHOPPING

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

David Aden  | 
David Aden DAden@webworldtech.com is a writer from Washington, D.C.