Like everything else in the Lone Star state, e-government in Texas has some king size ideas on serving the public with cost savings for the taxpayer. Bill Eggers, who is staff director of e-Texas for the Comptroller’s office, sees the online trend leading to a permanent outsourcing partnership with the private sector.
Why the need for e-government? It’s easy, Eggers said. It’s a matter of cost and efficiency. “E-government will save billions,” he said. Through the click of a mouse, taxpayers can log on to a government web page and access services that now, may require long drives that are matched by even longer waits standing in line.
Eggers is no stranger to revamping government. He has worked with the Texas Comptroller’s office in government transformation, competition policy and government streamlining. Before that, he led a review of Los Angeles Municipal government that identified more than $120 million in cost savings. Since January 1999, he has been involved in working on e-government. In Texas, that has led to the creation of www.e-texas.org. It was officially launched last November. In that time, he has come in contact with many private sector firms that have played a role in e-Texas and outsourcing.
For instance, Andersen Consulting has provided data showing Eggers and others the need for e-government. Andersen Consulting discovered that it costs no more than 40 cents per transaction for motorists to register their vehicles online. Contrast that with the traditional approach, which shows a cost ranging anywhere from $40 to $400 per transaction.
The Government of the Future and How it Works
E-government means more than just electronic government in Texas. Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander wants e-Texas to stand for “excellent, efficient and effective.” For Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, it’s a chance to deal with government away from its traditional brick and mortar. Some of the uses of e-government, Rylander and Eggers note, are the following:
- Paying taxes.
- Paying fines.
- Opening and operating businesses without the red tape.
- Even sick children can continue their education through the Internet.
“All of this will be on one web page,” said Eggers, who has also assisted reformers in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union with a move toward free markets. Once on the e-Texas web page, taxpayers and others, can move freely to the area that will be able to help them. It’s also not a problem if a visitor isn’t sure whether the right office is with workers compensation or the Secretary of State.
“What will happen is the user will type in a general need or concern and will be led directly to the proper agency,” Eggers said. Obviously for a state government as diverse as Texas, such a web page is bound to expand and be in need of lots of data. Eggers said it would not be possible for all of the information technology needs to be done in-house, thereby leading to the need for outsourcing.
But Eggers sees it as more than outsourcing. He sees a partnership, which networks into a broad alliance of cooperation. “When e-government is fully established, it will be hard to separate the public from the private,” he said. VTEL Corp., an e-Texas partner, is among the participants. VTEL is a global leader in visual communications, offering Internet video streaming solutions, videoconferencing and video networking systems, systems integration and support services.
Eggers said Cisco Systems, Dell, IBM and Intel are a few of the many private sector companies that have been involved with e-Texas. In announcing e-Texas, Comptroller Rylander also named an advisory committee with many members from the private sector. With the outsourcing help, Eggers predicts a large segment of the Texas population being served 24-7 by e-Texas in 2010.
Working Out the Kinks
There will be some challenges ahead for all of e-government, which may be the reason so many seminars are offered. “You could easily attend an e-government seminar just about every day of the year,” Eggers said.
One hurdle will be parallel processes. The traditional government offices will have to coexist with e-government, Eggers said. However, plans call for web sites to be very easy to use. “In some cases you won’t need words,” he said. “You could just click on pictures.”
Funding is another issue. The site can be funded from a general fund, or a fee structure that can accommodate each official transaction. Another possible way, is advertising. “Advertising has been a big debate with some,” Eggers said.
There also seem to be two other concerns as well: security of the site from hackers, as well as privacy issues. Some people, Eggers explained, may not feel comfortable with giving information on the site. They fear possible sale of the information or having it hacked. There may also be questions as to what constitutes a public record. Eggers said privacy would have to be weighed against open records in an open government.
Lessons from the Outsourcing Primer:
- Private companies will play a big role in outsourcing to make government more efficient and effective online.
- Several questions remain with e-government including privacy and how to fund the web site and services.