Reengineering Through Information Technology

Recommendations and Actions

IT03: Develop Integrated Electronic Access to Government Information and Services

Quick Response, Complete Information, and a Happy Ending to Telephone Tag

Imagine this: A recent retiree goes to a government services kiosk, located at his local post office. He wants information about his retirement benefits. After requesting his Social Security Number and other personal ID information, the kiosk prints a summary of his Social Security contributions, as well as the benefits to which he is entitled as a veteran. His annuity distribution options are included on the printout, as are all of the rules governing earning income while collecting retirement benefits. The kiosk then asks him if he wants related information on retirement, information on senior citizens groups--and brochures on collecting stamps as a hobby.

The government's primary mission is to provide quality services to the public in a timely manner. However, access to government services is cumbersome, uncoordinated, and not customer-friendly. If more than one agency is involved, a customer must go through two or more rounds of inquiries, with frequent routings from one government employee to another. Several recent government initiatives involving various information access methods are improving service to citizens by making information more readily available. Several of these initiatives are described below.

Telephone Access. Industry pioneered the use of the telephone to provide services to customers. Toll-free numbers and guided questions by either a human or computer speed callers to needed services. Call receipt is logged and automatically distributed, and responsiveness to customers can be measured.

The government has begun to incorporate telephone-based techniques to improve access to its services. For example, 70 percent of taxpayer contacts with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are now conducted by telephone. The IRS has made major improvements in theaccuracy of its telephone service information and is able to resolve many taxpayer problems in a single phone call--including accepting verbal statements over the phone. The Social Security Administration (SSA) now receives over 55 million calls a year requesting information and services over its national 800 number. On a cross-agency basis, the Federal Information Center (FIC), operated by the General Services Administration (GSA), provides 800-number telephone service in major metropolitan areas. The public may call FIC with any question or problem related to the federal government. Information specialists then research the question and either provide an answer or the telephone number of the specific federal office that should be contacted.

Kiosk Access. Federal and state governments are developing approaches to providing information and services through interactive, customer- activated terminals called kiosks, which are modeled after automated teller machines (ATMs).

The use of kiosks can create savings and generate revenues, as well as provide information and services. For example, the Info/California kiosk, a customer-activated terminal implemented by the State of California, has generated major benefits, including lower costs for customers of state information. For example, the kiosk offers a job match service in which customers preregister to determine relevant statewide employment openings. Previously, the job match service cost $150 per applicant. With preregistration at the kiosk, the cost is now $40 per applicant. Additionally, a California Department of Motor Vehicle address change costs $5 in person, $2 if received in the mail, and $1 if the transaction is received via the kiosk.[1) The State of Iowa estimates that its kiosk technology saves the state $6 per birth certificate issued ($7 manually versus $1 by kiosk technology).[2)

SSA is developing a new customer service initiative using kiosk technology to provide a wide range of services. This pilot program, to begin in late 1993, will provide information (retirement and disability benefits information, Supplemental Security Income eligibility requirements, etc.) and direct services (processing of entitlements, status of pending claims, etc.).[3) The pilot program should result in:

---reduction in claims processing time,

---reduction in paper flow and file retention,

---enhanced customer service through a one-stop shopping concept, and

---increased productivity.[4]

In conjunction with this initiative, SSA, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are developing a combined government services kiosk.[5] This kiosk will be a single access point to services provided by the three agencies. Since these three agencies represent a significant share of the federal government "s contact with the public, this partnership will have a dramatic effect on decreasing costs by reducing duplicate efforts and improving service by providing public access from more locations.

Additional Access Methods Many of the recent initiatives to provide electronic access have included the use of personal computers. For example, the Library of Congress has placed a searchable version of its catalog on Internet.[6] For computational scientists, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation (NSF) research centers have established Internet-accessible libraries of government- sponsored software.

NSF and the National Institutes of Health routinely place their program announcements and various other documents in an easily searchable and retrievable form on Internet. NSF's Science and Technology Information Service is accessed many thousands of times each week for information about NSF activities, funding opportunities, abstracts about research grants, and various reports on science and technology. Access is easy, and is provided at no charge.

The National Technical Information Service (NTIS) operates a publicly accessible dial-up electronic bulletin board system (BBS). This BBS, called FedWorld, provides access to over 100 federal government databases and bulletin board systems. Planning is under way to place this collection on Internet. A study has been completed recently to examine the feasibility of expanding FedWorld into a locator service that is a "comprehensive inventory and authoritative register of information products and services disseminated by the federal government," that can "assist agencies and the public in locating federal government information."[7]

The Clinton administration has established Internet mailboxes for the President and the Vice President (e.g., for direct electronic mail access by the public. The House of Representatives has a pilot project under way to provide public e-mail to seven congresspersons, and the Senate is expected to announce a similar program shortly. If successful, all members of Congress will eventually be accessible through Internet.

Most new information technology initiatives have their roots in the private sector, since it is the private sector--not government--that is usually first to adapt new information technologies to improve customer service. One example of government and industry working cooperatively to provide services is France's Minitel system. In the early 1980s, the French Government opened its telephone network to provide a wide range of services.[8] Minitel service is routinely used in homes and businesses. It includes on-line retrieval services, credit reporting services, airline reservations, telephone directories, and government information. U.S. telecommunication and information services companies have begun to offer similar services. The federal government, as a potential customer and a provider of information that could be made available electronically, could stimulate development of these services.

Need for Change

Citizen access to federal government information and services is uncoordinated and not customer-friendly. Individuals must frequently contend with several different organizations and processes in order to complete a single transaction. In turn, the federal government expends an inordinate amount of resources to complete actions. To receive service, a customer must know whom to contact and how to contact that organization: Government has not made public access easy. Information technologies may be employed to reduce the complexities that citizens face and consolidate actions required for providing services.

Several organizations have recommended (to different government entities) ideas for employing information technology governmentwide to improve services.

---The Service to the Citizen Intergovernmental Task Force requests one-stop, easy citizen access to information.[9]

---The National Academy of Public Administration asks for electronic access to government services.[10]

---The Program on Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector suggests replacing face-to-face services with teleservice and self-service.[11]

These organizations are but three of many that are organized and committed to improving government. They advocate the increased use of information technology as a key to improving customer service. However, as similar as their recommendations may be, their suggested implementations are quite dissimilar, pointing to a problem needing action. Further, there is no lead agency or organization that can coordinate the implementation of customer service initiatives. An authoritative charter is needed to trigger progress.

A true nationwide one-stop 800-number government service does not exist. Access to FIC is limited and not well-publicized. FIC primarily serves customers in certain key metropolitan areas representing approximately 50 percent of the U.S. population. For individuals who live outside these metropolitan areas, FIC's telephone number is not listed in many of their local telephone company directories and may not be available through directory assistance.

In the future, government information collection and distribution could be accomplished directly by the public using electronic kiosks, personal computers, interactive telephone voice response equipment, or other electronic off-the-shelf devices. Interactive computers or electronic kiosks could deliver a wide variety of government services, such as the following.

---Governmentwide service directories--access directories of government services, addresses (postal and electronic), and telephone numbers.

---Change of address service--automatically transmit, through a single transaction, a new address to all service agencies selected by a customer.

---Forms and publications--locate and request copies of government forms and publications; these could be delivered and filled out electronically, printed at the kiosk, or delivered by the post office.

---Tax filing--electronically input necessary financial data to allow the IRS to perform tax computations for federal, state, and local governments.

---Governmentwide information locator service--perform searches on selected topics, list locations for the information, and provide electronic links to the information.

---Multimedia and multilingual service delivery--provide information to meet special needs of clients using video, audio, or multiple languages.

---Public messaging entry station--allow entry of messages to government agencies and officials.

Government should form partnerships with the private sector to develop and implement ideas on how to use information technology to provide new and better services. Using the French Minitel model, both government and business services would be accessible. These partnerships will allow the federal government to provide additional services at less cost and will take advantage of lessons learned by industry.


1. Coordinate, recommend, and implement information technology initiatives to improve customer service. (2)

The Government Information Technology Services (GITS) Working Group should charter an interagency team by May 1994 to coordinate, recommend, and implement information technology initiatives to improve customer service. The progress of this team should periodically be reported to the Vice President. OMB should work with this Customer Service Improvement Team (CSIT) to develop funding strategies. An existing interagency team, the Service to the Citizen Intergovernmental Task Force, may be appropriate for this role. CSIT should work closely with GITS to ensure complementary strategies exist toward common goals. Membership of this team, as a minimum, should include representation from the following: the GITS Working Group, the Service to the Citizen Intergovernmental Task Force, the FIC, the SSA-USPS-VA kiosk implementation organization, FedWorld, and the National Academy of Public Administration.

As one of its first tasks, this team should develop and test an integrated governmentwide "one-stop service shop." This would consist of simple "Yellow Pages"-style databases of federal programs and automated links to the information and service providers. This one-stop shop should include access not only to information (e.g., how to apply for a program) but also the capability to process information (e.g., ability to accept an application electronically from the user). Customer access to this one-stop shop should be available through a variety of means. Access methods should include the telephone, information kiosk, and personal computer. Building blocks for the one-stop shop include the Federal Information Center, government services kiosks, and FedWorld (see actions 2, 3, and 4). Links between these services should be established where feasible, so that these efforts complement one another and are not duplicative, e.g., government services kiosks should be able to link to FedWorld's locator service. A draft strategic plan for development and implementation of the one-stop service shop should be completed by November 1994.

Significant customer service-related applications developed by individual agencies or organizations should be directed to this team. The team will then determine whether those initiatives may be appropriate for governmentwide application. Recommendations from private and public sector organizations should also be considered by this team.

2. Implement an integrated governmentwide national one-stop 800-number calling service. (1)

The Administrator of GSA should develop, by July 1994, an implementation plan for expanding to a national 800-number service to begin by December 1994. Under this plan, a customer should be able to call a single number and have the call routed by FIC to an individual in the appropriate agency who can respond. (Presently, callers are given agency phone numbers to dial themselves.) FIC's national 800 number should be listed in all local telephone company directories and be available from directory assistance nationwide.

This national 800-number service should be supplemented by a telephone network of individual agency 800 numbers. Customers who do not know what agency (or number) to call may call this federal government information specialist. Otherwise, they can contact the agency directly. Agencies that do not now offer 800-number calling services should develop implementation plans by July 1994, to provide this service by December 1994.

3. Implement an integrated one-stop government services kiosk. (2)

The Customer Service Improvement Team should coordinate the development and implementation of a one-stop government services kiosk. The SSA-USPS-VA initiative should be used as a model, and as a likely candidate for further development and expansion by additional agencies. It should develop a preliminary implementation plan by November 1994. This plan should identify appropriate agencies and customer services to be included, and timetables for nationwide expansion. The locations of kiosk-based access points to federal government services must be numerous and nationwide in order to facilitate customer access to information and services. Existing agency kiosk systems will need to be examined for the feasibility of upgrading them to include the services of the one-stop government services kiosk.

The kiosk concept is proving itself viable in delivering fast and efficient government services to the public. However, before it is used to collect and deliver sensitive information such as financial data, critical issues including user authorization, privacy, and network security must be addressed.[12]

Access to services through the electronic kiosk could be controlled in the same manner as access to ATMs. A kiosk access card could be used to access personal information in government files, including Social Security account balances and security background information reports. More general access could be provided without restriction for information on federal programs and to government yellow and white pages directories.

The functionality of a kiosk access card could also be expanded through smart card technology. Smart cards could be used for additional purposes such as storing and distributing data. This card could then be used for electronic transfer of funds or to allow the user to receive federal, state, and local benefits.

4. Implement an integrated governmentwide one-stop electronic bulletin board system. (2)

The Customer Service Improvement Team should develop an integrated one-stop electronic BBS by upgrading NTIS' FedWorld. A preliminary implementation plan should be developed by November 1994. This system should enable customer access, from a personal computer, to government information, services, and databases via easy-to-use interfaces. The upgraded FedWorld should not only be a locator service to federal information, but be capable of "closing the deal" and providing the information. Customers must be able to retrieve information from the databases, order copies of reports, and connect, via links, to other government information and services providers.

5. Work with private industry to advance the implementation of technologies that provide citizen access to government information and services. (2)

The Customer Service Improvement Team should begin to implement a program, by December 1994, that actively encourages private sector investment in technologies that will enhance public access to the government. Partnerships with industry should be developed that encourage and provide incentives for industry to assist government in improving customer service. A strategic plan for this program should be developed by November 1995.

Cross References to Other NPR Accompanying Reports

Improving Customer Service, ICS01: Create Customer-Driven Programs in All Departments and Agencies That Provide Services Directly to the Public.

Reinventing Support Services, SUP02: Ensure Public Access to Federal Information.

Transforming Organizational Structures, ORG05: Sponsor Three or More Cross-Departmental Initiatives Addressing Common Issues or Customers.

Endnotes 1. Marshall, Shirley, Public Sector Industry Marketing, IBM Corporation, June 1, 1993.

2. Stanek, Edward, Commissioner, Iowa Lottery Commission. "Iowa State Briefing to the Interagency Information Resources Management Infrastructure Task Group (IIITG), " Washington, D.C., November 9, 1992.

3. Interview with Dulaney, Phillip, Office of Telecommunications, Social Security Administration, July 21, 1993. See also U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Social Security Administration, "SSA Strategic Priority Tactical Plan, Fiscal Year 1993 Smart Machines - (Other User Friendly Machines) - KIOSK, " 1992, p. 6.

4. Ibid., pp. 3-13.

5. Chamberlain, Charles, U.S. Postal Service, "Service-To-The-Citizen (S-2-C) Kiosk, " Washington, D.C., August 10, 1993.

6. Internet is a global "network of networks" providing communications among over one million computers and 10 million users.

7. See American Technology Preeminence Act of 1991, and U.S. Department of Commerce, National Technical Information Service, "FEDLINE: A feasibility study of the establishment and operation of FedWorld, a governmentwide information locator service at NTIS, " Washington, D.C., April 28, 1993, p. 1.

8. Conhaim, Wallys W., "Maturing French Videotext Becomes Key International Business Tool, " Information Today, vol. 9, no. 1 (January 1992), p. 28.

9. Service to the Citizen Intergovernmental Task Force, Report of the First Service to the Citizen Conference, Richmond, Virginia, June 1993 (Washington, D.C., July 1993), p. 4. (Draft.)

10. National Academy of Public Administration, The Information Government: National Agenda for Improving Government through Information Technology (Washington, D.C.,1993), p. 14.

11. John F. Kennedy School of Government, Program on Strategic Computing and Telecommunications in the Public Sector, "Service to the Citizen: Information technology and customer service excellence in government," Harvard University, May 1993, p. v. (Draft.)

12. See IT-10: Develop Systems and Mechanisms to Ensure Privacy and Security.

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