Online internationalism

IT Week

e-Government projects in the UK and US aim to benefit citizens and government by increasing efficiency, but are current goals too parochial,

asks Barbara Nielsen

Copyright © 2002 CNET Networks, Inc

Monday, 29th October 2001 - I recently read an interesting article on e-government in the US at the GovExec.com news site, in which Mark Forman, director of technology and e-government at the White House, was asked about his two-year plan for reshaping the way the federal government communicates with citizens, businesses, states and staff. He said he aims to save the US hundreds of billions of dollars by reducing the amount of redundant information the government collects each year.

Forman has been in charge of a new inter-agency government taskforce since July. His group is charged with co-ordinating president Bush's e-government agenda for improving government services. The plan includes developing budgets based on agencies' performance, outsourcing services, and ensuring that staff improve the way they incorporate technology into their jobs, partly through retraining, the article explained.

Forman said that though the federal government is the largest purchaser of IT products in the US ­ spending between $45bn and $70bn a year ­ it has not experienced the same level of productivity growth as the private sector. He said one reason for this was the government's structure: agencies have been building islands of automation without effectively sharing information.

Forman also noted that government agencies tend to buy new equipment rather than fix current systems. And few agencies have created performance plans that they fulfil. To improve matters, Forman told the site that he hopes to facilitate information-sharing by promoting peer-to-peer software and reducing paperwork. He also wants the government to copy the technology industry's best practices on using the Internet for e-commerce services.

There are many parallels between the US example and current e-government developments in the UK. One problem, however, is that we tend to think of e-government in terms of individual countries. But a recent speech on security and the aftermath of the 11 September terrorist attacks, given by DK Matai, founder and chief executive of e-business security specialist mi2g, brought home to me that e-government should cross borders. One of the most urgent targets is for upgraded knowledge management and analysis systems for security forces that can work across agencies and between countries.

'The US, UK, most of Nato as well as Australia and New Zealand, need to have interoperable knowledge management and analysis systems, and tools for mining intelligence data,' Matai said. 'These new tools need to be able to cope with other countries of Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. No one country can be sure of collecting all the relevant data. No one agency and no one country is able to judge the worth of the fragments of intelligence it collects without putting it with information collected by other agencies and countries. The peer process of validation is essential to verify and deepen the intelligence gathered.'

What all this says to me is that facilitating agency information-sharing within e-government needs to be expanded internationally when it comes to protecting citizens, as well as enabling them to have access to one-stop-shopping for their individual information needs.

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