F.R. Duplantier reporting Behind The Headlines
Week of:
September 3, 2000
Digital Government of the People

F.R. Duplantier

by: F.R. Duplantier

"E-government is on the way, and it will change everything."

"For more than a decade information technology has been transforming American business and remaking the global economy," observes former Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith. "But the one place slow to respond to the digital revolution," he reports, "is government. It has yet to streamline its transactions and disseminate information efficiently, let alone flatten its bureaucracy or restructure its organizations, in the way that electronic technology has made possible in corporate America."

In the current issue of City Journal, the quarterly publication of the Manhattan Institute, Goldsmith predicts that digital government "will allow us to shrink expensive, bloated public sector workforces through automation. It will boost government's efficiency and make it more responsive to citizens and businesses. But we shouldn't underestimate the ferocious resistance that such transformations will unleash," he cautions. "Public employee unions won't want to see their power diminished. Bureaucrats will stonewall before they allow their empires to shrink. It will take real political leadership to explain the epochal benefits of e-government and create a consensus for change."

Goldsmith expects governments to "gain the biggest efficiencies by using the Net for procurement. Typically, when government needs to buy something or contract with a vendor, it advertises in a local paper or in business publications -- at least when the process is truly open. Buying media space is pricey, though," he emphasizes, "so government purchasers as a rule don't run many ads, and few responses come in. It's all too common to get a subpar deal that drives up the cost of government. Internet procurement," he notes, "allows government to create a better market, reaching a much larger group of vendors."

Goldsmith points out that governments can use the Internet in numerous ways to save citizens time and money. "Registering and licensing are just two of the many transactions government is starting to handle online," he reports. "These days, you often can log on to the Internet to pay parking tickets, apply for permits, and register for -- or even take -- classes at state universities. On the federal level, in 1998 nearly 25 million Americans filed their taxes with the IRS electronically," Goldsmith continues. "The Postal Service lets residents file change-of-address forms on the web. Companies can in many cases submit regulatory filings online with the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and other agencies."

Goldsmith insists that "the hallmarks of the New Economy -- speed, innovation, vigorous competition, a dizzying array of consumer options, and a dedication to customer service -- don't have to be foreign to government. A fully digitized government could provide public services as seamlessly and dependably as today's business world does. Such a government would customize itself to the individual's personal choices and convenience: a citizen would be able to define what information he wants from government, when he wants it, and how he will receive it," Goldsmith anticipates. "Citizens could keep close electronic watch on government's effectiveness," he adds, concluding with confidence that e-government will fulfill "its promise of slashing red tape, shrinking bureaucracy, and giving individuals greater control of their lives."

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