Texans get touch-screen access to government

klunney@govexec.com

In Texas, printing out your tax forms or renewing your driver's license is now as easy as touching a screen. Interactive kiosks providing over 150 government services are sprouting up throughout the state, with the most recent unveiling at Richland Mall in Waco, Texas, last Saturday.

On February 16, a kiosk went up in the Wal-Mart off Texas 121 in Bedford, Texas, and more are scheduled to appear in the future.

As part of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government's Hassle-Free Communities Initiative, the kiosks are designed to cost-effectively provide quicker access to federal, state, and local government services. IRS tax forms, change-of-address forms, adoption forms, and city event listings are just some of the options available through these machines. Based on their success in Texas, the virtual government kiosks could ultimately spread nationwide.

Morley Winograd, director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), said the new kiosks are "an excellent way to bring government services and information to people where they live, work, and shop, which is the whole idea behind reinventing government by creating 'hassle-free communities.'"

Liz Salih, the southwest regional coordinator for NPR's hassle-free communities initiative, said that so far, use of the the kiosk at the Bedford Wal-Mart has exceeded all expectations. "It's getting hits as late as four in the morning," she said. The Wal-Mart is open 24 hours a day.

Information is listed topically, so customers only need to know what they are looking for, not which agency has the information. For example, to renew a passport, users simply touch the "passport renewal" screen and print out the necessary forms.

John Pouland, head of the General Services Administration's Greater Southwest Region, said he hopes the kiosks will help the government organizations at all levels realize the benefits of using plain language in communicating with the public.

GSA's Greater Southwest Region and Richland Mall have donated the machine and the space in Waco. Political science students from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth developed the computer software for the kiosks.

The next interactive kiosk unveiling will be at the College Park Mall in Corsicana, Texas, on Feb. 25.

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