New book makes case for digital revolution in government
In his book, Eggers argues that antiquated hierarchies cannot meet today's challenges. He envisions a network-centric government where information is shared across agencies in order to streamline processes, foster efficiency, improve services and ease access to information.
Under that model, private enterprises will find different ways to package government information, he said. For example, Eggers said that Earth 911, a private organization that provides timely environmental data and lists government resources, "succeeded where other government agencies failed."
Once the value of technology is fully realized, he said, "it will be hard to find out where government starts and stops."
Greater transparency will create a "cathartic relationship between citizens and government," he added. In Eggers' model, citizens will have access to more information to make informed, personal choices about government services.
Furthermore, technology can be a cost-saving measure, Eggers said. The Office of Management and Budget has identified more than $7 billion worth of redundant systems, he said, noting that Cisco Systems saved itself $412 million by using technologies to streamline supply-chain management and that IBM saved itself more than $300 million in training costs.
While e-government initiatives are generally viewed as positive and necessary, Robert Atkinson, vice president at the Progressive Policy Institute, asked whether the goal of the movement "is to make government better, or is the goal to use technology to shrink government?"
It is time to move to the next phase of e-government, beyond transforming Web sites to transforming the transportation or the health care systems through technology, Atkinson said. "The biggest barrier to driving change is Congress," he added.
Stephen Slivinski, an economist at Cato, is concerned that the cost savings generated by e-government projects "won't reduce the size and scope" of government.
"The idea is to use technology to make government transactions more efficient," Slivinski said. As government introduces cost-saving measures, the goal should be to reduce overall spending. Instead, government is using that money to expand its programs. He pointed to the Pell Grant college education program that is now being expanded after it was able to save money by streamlining its processes through e-government initiatives.
For e-government to truly be successful, the three experts from various spots on the political spectrum agreed that new technologies cannot be slapped onto current systems without changing how government works. "Grafting technology onto an old way of doing things is like putting lipstick on a bulldog," Slivinski said.