One-Stop, Computerized Government Has Arrived

IN New Jersey, a man seeking a job for himself and child care for his daughter can check the databases on a computer kiosk in a local mall. A couple can pick out a campsite in Colorado by touching a map shown on a computer screen and getting a list of potential sites. Police in Maryland will soon take fingerprints by computer, enabling them to immediately compare prints to every other fingerprint in Maryland's database.

Technology is taking government services to the public in places such as malls, grocery stores, and eventually, their homes, says Mark Bower, president of Edge Solutions - the company that designed Colorado's new information kiosks. Service providers say technology makes the government more efficient, freeing workers from routine tasks.

States will be exhibiting their systems at the National Governors' Association conference in Boston July 16-19. Innovators such as Michael North, president of North Communications, say these networked government information systems will both lay the infrastructure for the information highway and help reinvent government by streamlining services.

The systems often combine public needs with private expertise. For example, California first provided government services electronically by contracting with North Communications and IBM to develop a multimedia kiosk.

The partners developed the entire project, from building the kiosks themselves to shooting videos and recording sound. California provided the necessary $400,000 in hardware, while IBM and North invested approximately $4.1 million providing everything else and expecting to profit.

Although getting Info/California's initial 15 kiosks going has taken longer than planned, ``this system will have a positive effect on the budget deficit,'' Mr. North says. ``It will save costs and help the state in downsizing efforts.''

Texas offers a similar system to disperse job information, with 16 kiosks currently available and 34 more to come. IBM and North again paired up for the venture, using private funds. Revenue comes from an average $1-per-person charge Texas pays out of its employment budget.

The system is not intended to save Texas any money, says Larry Silvey of the Texas Employment Commission. ``The point is to increase quality and improve convenience,'' he says.

Without private investment, other states have to overcome budgeting problems just to get programs off the ground.

Colorado funded its pilot program, InTouch Colorado, with just $67,500 leftover from other projects. Now the state has six kiosks providing information, but the project is stuck while the state raises more money to continue development, says Lou Ennis, InTouch Colorado's project manager.

The federal government also is working on an information system called the Government Connection, North says. One of its main functions would be to offer government forms.

A user could go to a kiosk, choose an income tax form, fill it out on screen, have the computer figure out the numbers, and print out the completed form at the kiosk. ``No more waiting in line,'' North says.

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