When Norman Jacknis was in the private sector, he could grumble about issues, but couldn't do much about them. "Here, if I see a problem, I can help solve it," he said.
Among Westchester County government's biggest challenges is homeland security, and since the county is just north of New York City, it was impacted by 9/11. "We've had everything from setting up a bio-terrorism analysis network where we collect and integrate data from all the emergency rooms around the county, to actually writing our own software for managing emergencies, for handling mass care situations," Jacknis said. "We're creating a wireless data network so we can video conference from the scene of an emergency."
A long-term challenge, Jacknis said, is simplifying government's interaction with citizens. Many agencies assume citizens understand complex government structures; therefore, people can spend hours trying to figure out which department to contact for a particular service.
"We've got to do something about that," Jacknis said. "It's getting worse because a lot of us are putting more and more information on our Web sites. We've got, I think, one of the most successful Web sites around, just in terms of the number of people who actually use it, but I'm sure they're not getting the full potential out of it."
Besides Westchester's success in creating a 500-mile fiber network connecting all government offices, libraries and local police departments a few years ago, Jacknis points to the county's Web site as a significant accomplishment. "More adults used our Web site in the last 12 months than who subscribe to either of the major newspapers in the county," he said, adding that reaching the public has been an issue.
"We're in the New York metropolitan area, but there is no local television or radio news station, because everything's centered in Manhattan. So this has become a very important mechanism for us to communicate to the public," said Jacknis. "And we've gone beyond the Web. We have voice recognition, so you can get on your telephone, call up our computers and talk to a computer to find out where the cheapest gasoline price is in your neighborhood."
Congratulations to this year's group of "Doers, Dreamers and Drivers," who appear in the March issue of Government Technology magazine.