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21st Century Integrated Government

Integrated government service delivery is a necessity for a new and improved century.

Oct '95 Rishi Sood G2 Research The 21st Century will likely witness the advent of integrated government service delivery, providing citizens with a single face to government services while maintaining clear distinctions as to accountability and responsibility. Federal, state, county and municipal governments provide very different and uniquely valuable services to the public, but such a wide array of services and responsibilities could scarcely be administered effectively by a single entity. Nevertheless, integrated government service delivery is not only a possibility, it is a necessity if governments are to efficiently serve their customers.

History The government bureaucracy of today is largely a direct reaction to the corruption of the early 1900s. Creating a massive infrastructure of government agencies to which accountability could be assigned provided citizens with a feeling of control over elected officials. Over time, however, the infrastructure overburdened itself, becoming the problem instead of the solution. Innovation slowed nearly to a standstill, and government service, though improving, remains inefficient. The nation's frustration with "government as usual" has been growing steadily, and the 1994 elections are only one more symptom of the country's impatience for significant change. Furthermore, as citizens have become accustomed to more efficient customer service and one-stop shopping options throughout the commercial sector, they have begun seeking the same of their government offices as well. With financial leverage through taxes and user fees, taxpayers demand a higher level of government services. The pervasive intolerance with inefficiency is tied to the public's growing awareness and acceptance of information technology solutions in nearly every facet of life. Both advances in technology - such as the development of user-friendly interfaces - and the increased price/performance ratio of personal computers have enabled this overall acceptance and utilization of information technology. Such reasoning explains the exponential growth of the Internet, a network which has been in existence since the 1970s yet has only gained widespread acceptance with the advent of graphical user interfaces. The convergence of the public's overall acceptance of information technology solutions and the growing frustration with government provide the impetus for a fundamental shift to the government of tomorrow.

Integrated Government Service Delivery Paradigm Though certain state and local government agencies are using technology to improve public access, most are primarily automating internal operations. It is still too often the case that technology is merely a tool used to make a "process" quicker without first redesigning the process itself. Instead, federal, state and local governments must change the entire process in order to facilitate conducting the gamut of government business, from vehicle registration renewal to receiving food stamps to filing federal taxes. In an integrated government service delivery environment, individuals could conduct government business regardless of the government entity involved. Through either a central building, such as a Government Service Center, or a national kiosk network, the public will be able to complete transactions without regard to the government entity. Creating a vehicle to conduct business at all governmental levels, from municipal to state to federal, negates the need for separate Elections Offices, Social Security Administration offices or Business License departments. Instead of repeating mundane tasks - such as change of address notifications - citizens could complete a variety of government tasks at one location. Thus, though different agencies would maintain respective responsibilities, the government would put forth a seamless face to the public. The creation of truly integrated government service delivery will not be an easy task, but it is the clear direction in which the country is headed. Moreover, it is a necessity for improving governmental efficiency. The Government Service Center concept necessitates agency information systems communicating with one another, such as sharing change of address information with all affected entities. Gradually, state and local government agencies are recognizing the importance of such data sharing, but soon alternatives will not really exist. Government will continue to "rightsize" and budgets will remain relatively stable. Moreover, agency responsibilities and expectations will not be altered, leaving little choice but to find a better way to accomplish the same mission. Integrated systems and government networks are a necessity. Information technology will play an integral role in making such an environment a reality. The rapid growth of the Internet suggests that the existing expansive telecommunications network will serve as the tool necessary to realize integrated government service delivery. A logical network integration of all government agencies' databases and systems would permit citizens access to any form of information in a seamless manner. In conjunction with a Government Service Center, the technological media to access integrated government data may be through kiosks, personal home computers, or public domain terminals, but most likely a combination of all three will be utilized.

Key Issues In addition to the technological aspects, other obstacles, such as cooperation among government agencies, need to be addressed. Who will take ownership of the national infrastructure keeping in mind that, in essence, it belongs to all agencies and to no one agency in particular? What government organization determines what technological improvements and additions are required? Who assumes responsibility for upgrades to the infrastructure and who is responsible for paying for it? In fact, the federal government has already begun to examine such issues in its pilot project to coordinate a national electronic network for government service and information. For example, one of the greatest dilemmas is determining what government entity assumes responsibility for administering integrated government services. Through the pilot Government Connection Intergovernmental Kiosk Program, the federal government proposes that a National Support Hub and Regional Support Hubs be selected and designated as program leaders. The leadership, consisting of representatives from various government agencies, will assume responsibilities which pertain to infrastructurewide and data management policy issues. Individual agencies will still retain the right and authority to determine the data content of the information they put on the national infrastructure as well as the services they provide electronically. (See GT, May 1995) In the effort to create integrated government service delivery, government also has a responsibility to ensure citizens' right to privacy and to make sure that confidential information remains confidential and accessible only to authorized individuals. The advent of government networks and electronic public access bring privacy issues to the forefront due to the relative ease of accessing private information. For example, transaction-based self-service solutions require both user identification and verification at the kiosk in order to ensure that individuals' confidential data is not compromised. Furthermore, the entire network must be secured in order to prevent any damage, whether by accessing someone else's personal data or by actually hacking into the government network and altering government data.

Conclusion The twin drivers of information technology acceptance and constituent frustration will lead to the realization of integrated government service delivery in the 21st Century. The Government Connection project serves as a tangible example of the country's direction toward truly integrated governmental service delivery. Moreover, it is clear through the federal government's direction that state and localgovernment participation is critical to the successful implementation of seamless, one-stop service delivery.