National Capital Area Chapter
American Society for Public Administration
People, Politics, and Technology: Public Service in the 21st Century
May 12, 2000
Patricia B. Wood
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Public Management in a dot-gov World
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to speak. I am happy to be here, and I am especially pleased with your timely conference theme.
The Internet is changing the world. It's been more than 30 years since Defense-funded research connected computers in four universities. For years, what was to become the Internet mainly connected computers in military, academic, and scientific installations around the globe. E-mail, the first major Internet application, was for years the tool of technicians and academics.
Even 7 years ago, there were only 1.3 million computers worldwide connected to the Internet; today there are more than 56 million. The United States has more Internet connections than any nation in the world. Today our nation's businesses, government agencies and other organizations rely on e-mail, not to mention teenagers and grandmothers.
But it wasn't e-mail that created the global stampede to the Internet. It was personal computers plus some critical tools and programs that made the Internet interesting and accessible to average people. A major tool was a global hypertext system that created the World Wide Web. On the Web, the connections are hypertext links to documents and services on computers anywhere in the world. Browsers, introduced about 7 years ago, gave us pictures - a graphical interface. Videos and sound helped make Cyberspace entertaining as well as informative.
The Dot-com World
It's no wonder the commercial world has staked out a huge hunk of this valuable virtual real estate and put up "for sale" signs. Not for the virtual property, but for goods and services that people can buy online or rush out to their nearby stores with e-coupons in hand.
These dot-com customers are creating a demand for instant information and services 24x7, as they say, that government must match. It's certainly reasonable to assume that these same Americans - and many, many more -- will demand to interact with government the same way they do with businesses.
In the dot-com world, customers are in the driver's seat.
And that brings us to public management in a dot-gov world.
Let's talk about three things:
After we look at these three topics, we'll do questions and answers.
REINVENTION HAD TO COME FIRST
In the early nineties, government was still largely a sluggish, multi-layered bureaucracy controlled from the top. Procedures affecting both the public and workers were wrapped tightly in red tape. Regulations - many obsolete - were written in language that only the regulators could understand.
It took one-third of all civilian workers to manage, check up on, or audit the other two thirds. It took months to buy a box of pencils and up to 2 years to buy a computer. Most agencies didn't think they had "customers." But what was worse, polls revealed only about 20 percent of the American people trusted government to "do the right thing."
When President Clinton asked Vice President Gore in 1993 to conduct a "National Performance Review," the Vice President went to employees first. He led a series of town hall meetings to learn first-hand the problems and challenges facing employees, especially those on the front lines.
To get a business prospective, the Vice President also hosted a summit of corporate executives, government leaders, and consultants who were leaders in organizational change. This summit provided a business perspective on reforming the government and private sector approaches to managing change successfully.
When Vice President Gore reported back to the President that same year, chief among the recommendations was putting customers first. President Clinton immediately issued an executive order requiring federal agencies to set up customer service standards equal to the best in business.
Over the years, NPR - now the National Partnership for Reinventing Government - continued to work with agencies and their outside partners "to create a government that works better, costs less, and delivers results Americans care about." We especially work with "high impact agencies," that is, agencies like Social Security, IRS, and the Postal Service that serve the vast majority of Americans. Congress has passed about 90 laws to support reinvention.
Working with partners in and out of government, NPR's goal in the year 2000 is to ensure that change and reinvention become a permanent part of the day-to-day operations and culture of government. Our 32 high impact partners are transforming themselves to be performance-based, results-oriented, and customer-driven.
NPR's focus on customer service is paying off.
How do these reinvention accomplishments relate to a dot-gov world?
E-gov - the dot-gov world now emerging - would be far different if government had not started reinventing itself as the Internet was coming into its own. The Internet has driven a large part of this change in culture, to be sure. Can we imagine a dot-gov world with a government that recognized no customers, wrote in gobbledygook, and moved at the speed of the Model T?
One of the original NPR recommendations in 1993 was increasing electronic access to government well before the words "World Wide Web," "online" and "dot-com" were a part of our daily lives and language.
Vice President Gore drew a blueprint for electronic government in his 1997 report, Access America: Reengineering Through Information Technology: The Vice President said:
"The idea of reengineering through technology is critical. We didn't want to automate the old, worn processes of government. Information technology (IT) was and is the great enabler for reinvention. It allows us to rethink, in fundamental ways, how people work and how we serve customers."
One of the outcomes NPR is working toward is the Vice President's vision of creating a comprehensive electronic government. We are currently working with others to ensure an architectural design to give Americans access to all government information and be able to conduct all major transactions online by 2003.
TODAY'S DOT-GOV WORLD
Creating an E-Gov Partnership
Last November, NPR and the Council for Excellence in Government partnered to bring together 100 leaders in industry, government, and non-profit organizations in an e-gov symposium. Participants discussed how to shape the way government is to use information technology and the Internet to connect Americans with their government. One day we may look back on that meeting as a watershed event.
It was the beginning of a partnership between government and industry so that the decisions we make in government are supported by private industry. These leaders convened again in March and have continued to collaborate online to produce policy recommendations and implementation plans. They will meet again in June to consider recommendations from the working groups. Later they will publish a report.
To re-enforce this effort, President Clinton issued several Executive Memoranda on electronic government last December.
In one memorandum, the President acknowledged the wealth of government information online, but asked agencies to organize information to make it easy to find, to standardize means of access, and to respond to the public demand for online interaction and service transactions. By this December, he asked that the 500 most commonly used federal government forms be online.
What is the status of e-gov today?
For the last three years, government agencies - federal, state, local, intergovernmental - have been rapidly expanding the number of governmental transactions citizens can accomplish online.
What Online Services Do People Want?
A survey by Dell Computers last September revealed that 90 percent of the public want to get their driver licenses and tags online; 78 percent want to vote, and 70 percent want to pay traffic tickets.
Those of you who live in Virginia may already know that the Department of Motor Vehicles moved from static webpages to a full-service transactional site. Six hundred pages on the site support their core business functions and all are customer-focused. You can do almost everything - renew tags, create a customized plate, purchase a plate, change your address, file proof of insurance, see your driving record, and much more. In 1999, 96 percent of customers were satisfied, 95 percent said service had improved, and 58 percent rated service as excellent.
As more and more Americans transact business by website and e-mails, they expect business-like transactions from government, including getting quick responses to their e-mails. New York Times reporter Rita Beamish did a story on government e-mail service on May 20 last year. Inspiration for the story came from her personal experience. "I needed some research on past Presidential Cabinets," she wrote. "...I knew the National Archives and Records Administration would have my answer in its millions of pages of documents. I logged on to www.nara.gov. My information wasn't there, but an E-mail address was. I sent off my query, and 12 days later I received the precise information, complete with citations and details, in an E-mail message that was as chipper as a happy-face sticker. This was the most gratifying use of my tax dollars since the Park Service began building bike paths."
As editor of Access American Online Magazine, I have featured more than 350 uses of IT, including web technology, to serve government's customers faster, better, cheaper and to increase government productivity. As manager of NPR's website , I have posted or linked to thousands of reinvention documents and resources. I am an observer and reporter of reinvention and the dot.gov world, not an expert in technology or government reform.
Here's one thing I see: It's hard for citizens to find what they need from government online. Here's why:
We must not forget that citizens are running this show. Christopher Locke and others who wrote, "The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual," give this advice:
"If you have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get...we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."
PUBLIC MANAGEMENT CHALLENGES
Experts in and out of government tell us we face major technical and management challenges, despite the successes that we see around us.
Questions and Answers
The future of e-gov is one of infinite possibilities. We need a shared vision, and many oars in the water to create the e-gov we want.
As I mentioned earlier, the CEG/NPR public/private sector working group is expecting proposals from its working groups in June.
This morning, instead of your asking questions you would like me to answer, I would like for YOU to propose questions and for YOU to come up with answers about the dot-gov we want to create. It will be interesting to compare our collective concerns and answers with the experts.
I have not said much about the vast benefits web technology offers. It makes service delivery better and faster for our customers, lets citizens interact directly with their government, improves government productivity, and saves time, money, staff, and, oh yes, cows.
Thank you again for inviting me.
Patricia B. Wood