A18: ENHANCE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY LEARNINGImagine this: A government where every employee is using technology to deliver the highest quality of service, and every manager includes information technology as part of every business function. Imagine a time when federal employees accomplish each agency's mission by making full and appropriate use of every information technology tool.
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is using technology to serve taxpayers. Through touch tone phones, taxpayers can access answers to the most common tax questions. Through computers and modems, taxpayers can access volumes of tax information and the forms they will need to prepare tax returns. Taxpayers also can file their returns electronically. Finally, IRS employees, linked to computers across the country, use technology to answer taxpayer questions, and adjust taxpayer records.
As the twentieth century comes to a close, almost every federal employee has access to some computer capability. Additionally, the government's customers are increasingly able to utilize information technology, through the Internet and high speed telecommunications systems, to find the answers they need.
The government has many opportunities to use information technology more effectively. Applying these technologies instead of paper-based processes, senior government managers will be able to accomplish their agency missions more effectively. To get these results, however, all employees need to understand the advantages of information technology and how applying it can continually improve performance. This understanding is practically impossible to gain without some first-hand experience using these new tools. Even though the technology today is arguably simple to use, getting started requires some basic level of training. It's true at the front line and at the top.
Leadership by example from senior executives is critical in persuading employees to use new technology. E-mail, now an accepted communications tool in most organizations, was a novelty not long ago. But even after the novelty had worn off in most circles, within the Army the senior leadership preferred phone tag and handwritten or neatly typed buck slips, or placing conference phone calls, in which only a limited number of users could participate. A major change took place when a new Army Vice Chief of Staff was appointed, one who not only believed in the personal computer revolution, but practiced it by using electronic mail as his preferred method of communication. The Vice Chief of Staff's use of technology made it necessary for the senior staff to follow his lead and within weeks personal computers sat on the desk of each Deputy Chief of Staff, connecting the Deputies to the Vice Chief of Staff and each other.
NEED FOR CHANGEAs the number of government employees declines, the people who remain will need technology to leverage their efforts. In the past, large numbers of government employees provided information directly to the public; now, smaller numbers of employees rely on such technologies as touch tone phones, computer kiosks, and Internet sites to serve the public. This trend will continue.
Managers and executives have two sets of learning needs. Like other employees, managers and executives need to understand the potential uses of information technology and be able to apply them. In addition, they also must be able to help other employees to access, learn, and use appropriate information technology.
Learning and applying information technology becomes more critical as the workplace becomes more complex and the public's demand for service grows. Downsizing in the work force has also increased the need for government employees to learn about and apply information technology. Workers can use more sophisticated electronic tools to improve productivity and better utilize their skills.
The government can train employees using distance learning and network delivery of educational courses. Those information technology applications would lower travel costs and reduce the time employees would spend away from their work sites. Distance learning, by way of video-based conferences and computer networks, has already proved highly successful in many Department of Defense components as well as in such organizations as the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
ACTIONS1. Ensure a basic level of computer competence for all government employees.
The Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Board should coordinate the development of a computer literacy program to ensure all employees have fundamental skills such as computer terminology, functions, and security. The computer literacy program should help employees learn how to use electronic mail, perform word processing, and conduct Internet and intranet searches.
The GITS Board should assure that computer-based tutorials on these subjects are available to government employees through the Internet and agency intranet systems. By July 1997, the GITS Board should identify topics and learning objectives for these computer-based tutorials. By December 1997, the GITS Board should arrange for the development of these tutorials and their Internet/intranet availability.
2. Ensure that agencies have personnel with the ability to design and deploy advanced Internet/intranet applications.
Many of the recommendations of Access America will require agencies to design, deploy, and maintain advanced Internet applications, including secure authenticated transactions; one-stop searching of multiple agency databases; Internet-based groupware to support virtual agencies; directories of government employees; applications based on emerging object technologies; selective dissemination of information; and design of Web-based applications for easy navigation and access by persons with disabilities.
Currently, leading IT firms and high-tech start-up businesses are making major investments to develop new Internet-based applications, and to ensure that applications developed for client-server and legacy environments are accessible on the Internet. Moreover, an increasing number of Americans have Internet access at home or work, and telecommunications companies are gradually making the investments in infrastructure that will enable higher-speed Internet access. All this suggests that the opportunities and payoff for creative government use of the Internet will expand dramatically in the months and years ahead.
A working group established by the GITS Board should develop a strategy for substantially expanding the number of agency personnel with these skills by June 1997. The working group should consider measures such as sponsorship of workshops, joint agency purchases of computer-based training, and incentives and professional recognition for agency personnel who acquire advanced Internet development skills.