Government Technology's Wayback Machine

Revisiting 20 Years of Government Technology magazine

by / July 1, 2007
In 1989, Government Technology transitioned from a bimonthly magazine to a full-fledged monthly publication. As the 1990s beckoned, many of our stories hinted at up-and-coming technologies. In the January/February issue, we reported on the growing movement toward issuing electronic food stamps, or what we know today as Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). Back in those days, the EBT system was still in its pilot stages and available in just a handful of states.

With 1990 being a census year, we reported on a U.S. Census Bureau project that would largely lay the groundwork for modern-day GIS applications -- even the Web-based mapping tools we now take for granted. The effort, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, produced a database called TIGER (Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing). TIGER maps included the name of every street in the largest 345 urban areas, the range of addresses on those streets, every railroad route and operator and thousands of geographic features. The TIGER database covered nearly 4 million square miles.

Ironically in that same issue, we ran an editorial contending that GIS was not only a "misnomer â?¦ begging for a new name," but was also in desperate need of a "new rationale for its existence." But then, who would've imagined how integrated into our lives GIS would become?

In the July issue, the cover stories included an article about the role of GIS in the infamous Alaskan oil spill clean up, a bit about closed-circuit television arraignment systems and one story about the "final" implementation phase of the California Department of Motor Vehicles' brand new Tandem computer system. The $49 million project would eventually be scrapped and go on to become one of the highest-profile technology-in-state-government debacles of the decade.

In the September issue, we interviewed then-Texas Rep. Richard Williamson, who authored legislation creating the Texas Department of Information Resources -- nowadays a go-to source for our sister magazine Texas Technology.

As the new decade drew closer, the evolution of technology could also be seen in the ads. Many servers boasted up to 1,300 MB of storage, CDs were growing increasingly popular and laptops began to resemble their modern-day descendents. Why, a slim, 12-pound, 286 laptop with 1 MB of RAM, a 2400-baud modem and a 20 MB hard drive could be had for just a few thousand dollars!

Furthermore, these magnificent machines were powered by scaled-down lead-acid batteries that, if need be, could be jumpstarted in emergencies.

With Government Technology establishing itself as the leading industry magazine, the staff at e.Republic was growing, too. And here's a bit of inside dirt on those early days at the magazine: One of our staff writers, a Mr. Fred James, wasn't a real person. In order to make our staff list seem more expansive, our editor, the late Al Simmons, conjured up Fred, and our phantom writer would remain "on staff" until 1998.

1990 was an extraordinary year. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was captured, German Reunification began, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Lithuania voted to secede from the USSR, Ryan White died from AIDS, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stepped down, the Hubble Telescope was launched, Iraq invaded Kuwait, French and English Chunnel builders met under the seafloor, Buster Douglas defeated Mike Tyson and the first McDonald's opened in Moscow.

Chad Vander Veen

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.


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