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E-Gov: Reach Out and Touch It

By Kathy Millar
July 31, 2000

Mohamed Abul-Hawa, the manager of the Maryland Avenue Safeway in northeast Washington, DC, is the man responsible for making sure shoppers leave "his" store happy and satisfied. His shelves are stocked, the aisles are clean and clear, and employees are alert and standing by to help shoppers.

But that’s not all. On July 27, Abul-Hawa offered a new service for his patrons -- an interactive kiosk in the store’s lobby that opens a portal to another universe - the world of online government services and benefits. Officials from the federal government, the Mayor’s office, and private sector companies cut the ribbon on a simple touch-screen computer linking shoppers to more than 150 government services - an opportunity for people who don’t own computers or don’t know how to use them to get information and services.

Today, customers cruising the aisles of Abul-Hawa’s grocery store can send email to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, contact their local elected officials, print out federal tax forms, and scroll through bios of special needs children available for adoption. With a touch of a finger, they can also obtain information from government programs that provide support to eligible seniors, single parents, and others who need services.

Hassle-Free Community Initiative Brings E-Gov to Customers

As part of the "Hassle-Free Community" initiative sponsored by the National Partnership for Reinventing Government, government agencies at the federal, state, and local level are working together to reach out to all areas and populations. "We want to deliver government services how, when and where people need them," said NPR Director Morley Winograd. "The kiosks are being placed where people live and shop so that getting forms or information from city hall to the federal government is as convenient as shopping for groceries."

Thousands of Communities Will Have Kiosks

The kiosk project is the brainchild of NPR and the General Services Administration. GSA has committed to bring at least 36 kiosks to communities throughout the country. Plans to bring the same kind of electronic access to thousands of communities across the country are in the works through a public-private alliance. At the July 27 event in northeast D.C., NPR and GSA officials announced a partnership with private internet companies Urban Cool Network and GS Planet (Golden Screens Interactive Technology). The Urban Cool Network will place more than 3200 kiosks in shopping malls in urban areas where there are few home computers or limited Internet access. GS Planet plans to locate thousands of kiosks in public transit centers such as train and bus stations as well as shopping malls and other public sites. Both companies are providing the government links at no cost to the American public.

It Started in Bedford, Texas

GSA launched the first pilot kiosk in February at a Wal-Mart in Bedford, Texas. Since then, other federal agencies and private sector partners across the country have been joining the effort.

Locations vary from the Atlanta Underground to the public library in Winsboro, Louisiana and the Great Mall in Milpitas, California. The key, GSA officials say, is to locate them in places where there are lots of people and the doors stay open evenings and weekends.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service set up one of the first kiosks in the East Dallas Fiesta Mart. About 2700 individuals accessed more than 22,000 services in its first month of operation. INS plans additional kiosks to serve populations throughout the US/Mexico border region.

"G" Is for Government

In addition to being able to access local, state and federal government services in one location, customers can also get information by topic. People may not know that "passports" fall under the purview of the Department of State. Now they don’t need to know.

Now, if you need a passport application, and you happen to be standing in front of one of these new kiosks, all you have to do is touch the letter "P." For services available to Seniors, touch "S." For tax information, touch "T." And print what you need on the nearby printer.

"E" Is For E-gov

Agencies at all levels are rushing to create an electronic government - e-gov - with information, interaction, and transactions. Kiosks are bringing e-government information and services to people in their own neighborhoods, even if they don’t have a computer.

This isn’t the end of this story. It’s just the beginning.

For More Information

For more information about the kiosks or hassle-free communities, contact Anna Doroshaw or Linda Walker at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

About the Author

Kathy Millar is a writer at the National Partnership for Reinventing Government. Contact her at or 304-728-3051 x255.

Related Resources


Access America: Reengineering Through Information Technology

Access America E-Gov E-Zine

Electronic Government

Hassle-Free Community Initiative

Interactive Kiosk Brings Government to Local Community

Dallas-Fort Worth Uses Technology to Link Waiting Kids with Adoptive Parents

National Partnership for Reinventing Government

General Services Administration

Access America E-Gov E-Zine Partners
Chief Information Officers Council
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Federal Communicators Network