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Delaware's Dynamic Minner

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner isn't wasting time when it comes to the state's transformation to electronic government.

Though she's no stranger to politics, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's speed in creating electronic-government initiatives and applications is worth noting. Since she took office in January, Delaware has introduced 12 new government Web sites and added approximately 10,000 Web pages to state agency Web sites.

One of five women governors in the country, Minner spent eight years in the state's House of Representatives and 10 years as a state senator. She ascended to the lieutenant governor's office, serving there from 1993 until she became governor in 2001. Minner is Delaware's first woman governor, capturing 59 percent of the popular vote in the 2000 election.

Government Technology: You hit the ground running with respect to technology. What motivated you to put technology at the top of your agenda?

Minner: It's what people are expecting today. We have a large business climate with our incorporation law and the base that we have. We need to provide information as quickly as we can to all of our businesses as well as to all of the citizens of our state.

GT: You created the Governor's Information Services Task Force, whose recommendations you're now acting on. How important is it to have a task force to advise you?

Minner: Many of us don't have the expertise to know exactly what we need, and by establishing the task force and bringing together a group of people from the business community as well as from government, we found out exactly where they thought we should move and moved in that direction.

I guess I'm from the old school in saying, "The more [people] you have involved, the better results you get." By having business and industry working with us, we understood what they wanted as well.

GT: Part of the task force's recommendations included the creation of a standardized feel for state agency Web sites.

Minner: It will be the job of our CIO to make sure that we have information available for everyone and that all of the agencies use the same format so that people will know what to expect and where to get that information.

GT: The role of the CIO has changed from a straight technology person to a person who's responsible for many other aspects of a government's electronic face. What did you look for when you were recruiting for that position?

Minner: Someone who understands state government and how it works, as well as the needs of the private sector; someone who is a good manager but also knows equipment and understands what we needed and where to go to get it.

I was looking for someone who had multiple talents, and it's difficult to find such a person. We were very fortunate in getting several applications for the CIO position, and I happen to think that Mr. Thomas Jarrett - who we hired - has all of those qualities and will do a good job for us.

GT: I noticed that when you created the new Department of Technology and Information, the decision was made to exempt it from the state's merit system. What was the rationale for that decision?

Minner: People come to us, work for the state for a few years and then leave because they can get better salaries in other places. We were looking at how we could get and retain quality people in our current Office of Information Services.

We had a real problem with people staying for just a short period of time, and we don't want that to continue. We want to build a good group and keep them in state government.

GT: There's been a lot of talk at the federal level about privacy legislation. Some of that talk advocates that Congress set federal guidelines because having states set their own individual guidelines would be too confusing for Internet retailers. How big of a role do you think states should play in creating privacy policies, or should there just be a federal framework that everybody adopts?

Minner: I think we, as well as the citizens, should have a voice in whatever happens in the federal government. We've been talking about Internet shopping and what happens with taxation; Delaware is in a unique position in that we don't have a sales tax.

It is still of interest to us because how [Congress] writes that legislation may very well affect what happens in Delaware if we end up having to be a collection agency for other states when it comes to the taxing. We're absolutely monitoring what happens in Washington, and we'll continue to do so as that legislation moves forward.

GT: Is there a sense from your perspective, and from other governors, that Washington is paying attention to what states want?

Minner: In the past several years, you've seen the National Governors' Association take a stronger stand on any number of issues. I think we've seen the members of Congress working more closely with the NGA, and many of them have come from government and have worked in governor's offices; they understand the problems of the states.

We're not all the same size; we don't all have the same climate and other aspects that make us exactly alike, but many of the states are affected by things that happen, and we need to have a voice in what's being done.

GT: People have different views on integrating governments across jurisdictions. Some say you should start at the top and work down; others say you should start at the local level and work up. What's your position on where such integration should begin?

Minner: It would be nice if it started in Washington, and they paid all of the bills. I don't think it's very realistic to think that, though.

What we're doing as a state is: we included local fire companies and emergency systems when we did our 800MHz system, and we try whenever we can to include municipalities and counties in things that we're doing.

Our first order of business is to get our own house in order before we start looking to help others, though. After we get that done, then it will be time to start working with some of the other groups to make sure they have the same availability.

About seven or eight years ago, I looked at some of the things that we were doing in health and social services. We had people going in for prenatal care, but we found that hospitals didn't have that information available. We had to physically print the information out and send it along with the clients. Wouldn't it be much simpler if we could have that hospital connected to our system so they could find out everything about that client from the day they first came in? That could be true for children who are getting health services as well.

There is good reason to connect us in a lot of areas with local facilities as well as with municipalities.

GT: How do you begin chipping away at the climate of distrust that clouds the relationship between local governments and the state?

Minner: We're working on that now with a program that we started called "Livable Delaware." We're putting everybody together - the counties, the municipalities, the planners, the state agency planners, people from the departments of transportation and agriculture - in the same room to talk so that we all know where we're headed and we'll all get there together.

We've got to talk more. We've got to have meetings. We have to put everybody in one room. Thank goodness that Delaware is small; we can do that.

I'm looking forward to seeing that bridge the gap we've had in the past between our local governments and our state; to fill that gap in and have them work more closely together.

GT: There is disagreement about whether the creation of a federal CIO is a good idea. What's your take on the role of a federal CIO and how that position would create better relationships between the states and the federal government?

Minner: It's exactly what we're talking about [in Delaware] with having someone who understands the technology; who can go to our agencies and work with them so that, if you talk about the state's department of justice and the state police and the courts and the motor vehicle department; all of them can be on one system and all of them can work together, rather than everybody being separate and everybody having to work independently on the information - it saves time; it saves money; and it's more convenient for them as well as for us.

When you start looking at it on a national basis, the issues are different. A federal CIO would have to be much different from a state CIO.

GT: When you're looking at putting your own technology house in order, how much do you look at what other states are doing and take ideas from them? Or do you speak with other states informally?

Minner: I've been a part of the e-government task force of the National Governors' Association, and we're looking at what other states did. We found a couple pretty bad mistakes that [were] made; so we can avoid those. We found two or three really good things that states did, and we're using them.

It's what the National Governors' Association is all about - [looking] at best management practices and using [them] as we move forward. That's what we're doing. It's also an opportunity for other local governments to use what we've learned, and we'll continue to help them.

GT: Your Department of Natural Resource and Environmental Control created the state's first e-mail notification process. Are you going to have other state agencies do that kind of thing?

Minner: Absolutely. We also have many Web sites and the Delaware Help Line that all give you information as you need it. We have a virtual tax center Web site, and there will be lots more as we continue to move forward. Courts and justice will be next, and I can't think of any area that we wouldn't create a Web site for.

GT: What other plans are under way in Delaware?

Minner: We know that we can improve our performance; there's no question about that. Delawareans expect us to. They want to be able to use e-government in an easier fashion and have it be cost effective and efficient. When someone wants a permit for whatever, they expect to be able to go online and find out what they need to do. If you need to transfer a title; if you need a driver's license; whatever you need, that information is available at much greater speeds than it used to be.

My grandson called me and said, "Thanks for helping with my homework." I was in Wilmington; he was in Milford, but he went on the Delaware home page and found the answers that he needed for a school assignment. That's what e-government is all about; it's giving you the information when you need it so that you can complete your job or assignment without having to worry about hunting for answers.