Vermont's cold winter days are the perfect time to let our imaginations run wild. Can you Imagine sitting in your living room or den some Saturday in the future, renewing your car registration with the Department of Motor Vehicles, applying for a tax ID number or tradename for your business and checking on the status of your state income tax refund - all from your home computer?
The Internet is more than a communications medium. It is also a practical tool for commerce, and an invaluable tool for providing essential governmental services to the people of Vermont. Done right, eGovernment will harness technology to create positive, sweeping change in the relationship between people and their government. It will make government more results-oriented and will provide better services to the public by allowing Vermonters to conduct their business with state government whenever and wherever they wish. Rather than waiting in line, Vermonters will go on line to access easy-to use- government.
Electronic government will also allow our citizens and businesses to become involved in a more active dialog with state government. With an ability to track legislation or rulemaking on line - or to participate in a public hearing or to provide instant feedback on a new form or procedure, eGovernment can provide our citizens with a better understanding of government and its
role, thereby increasing citizen confidence and participation in government and governance.
As Secretary of State I have worked hard to create a state of the art web page which makes our small piece of state government more accessible and easy to use. Our Business Search Program allows Internet users access to valuable information about businesses registered in Vermont. Users can view the campaign finance reports of their local representative or look at the official results of the 2000 Presidential and general election. Those interested in Vermont's history or current affairs can visit our Archives pages to look at photos from the past or to gain insight into current debates about the proper role of government. Our website offers information about the licensed professionals who serve the people of the state of Vermont and provide forms for making complaints of unprofessional conduct. All these programs, and more, are now available at the Secretary of State's Office website, www.sec.state.vt.us.
But these programs only scratch the surface. Our next task is to embrace e-business applications and to build the necessary systems for integrating Internet technology into our agency's everyday structures and processes, while ensure public access accountability into the future.
The challenge now facing our state is not just to make the information of government available electronically, but to make it easy for the public to find exactly what they need where they need it. For example, there is no reason to expect that a person will know to visit the Secretary of State's website to learn about how to become a Notary or to find out whether a doctor or dentist was recently disciplined for unprofessional conduct. And, in order to maximize the potential of eGovernment, we must we must take the necessary steps to allow our citizens to transact their business with government over the Internet.
Now is the time for the state of Vermont to prepare for eGovernment. Vermont - all of its agencies and departments - should have a single Internet portal through which we can search and access government programs and services. This portal should be designed to easily direct Internet browsers to the information they need to conduct their business regardless of what agency or department handles the matter. We must have greater uniformity among agencies and clear standards for content and record preservation to improve the quality, efficiency and endurance of e-government.
Our legislature must help us access the full potential of the Internet by passing digital signature and digital notary laws and to open the way for the acceptance of credit card and electronic payments. Only with this legislative support will we be able to conduct the business of government electronically.
State government must move from an information based technology - where the Internet is used as a reference for people about government - to a transactional or interactive tool, enabling our citizens to conduct their business with government entirely on line. To accomplish this our agencies must work together to create consistent forms, policies and protocols, not forgetting the importance of keeping records of government that will endure into the next generations.
As we move to e-government we must work to bridge the digital divide. Many Vermonters do not have access to the Internet. While we can expect that there will always be a demand to provide government services using the traditional paper-and-people model, we must take care not to leave behind anyone in our communities. Our education system must expose all of our students to new technology and to help them gain proficiency in Internet navigation. We must find ways to provide reliable computers to libraries, schools, local governments, community organizations and low-income households. We should try to foster public-private partnerships to ensure that Internet access is available in our rural communities and for our low-income households. And, of course, we must continue to ensure that government programs and services available through our web sites are accessible to those with disabilities.
It goes without saying that skilled leadership is essential if we are to bring eGovernment to Vermont. I applaud the steps taken to date to by the state's chief information officer, Pat Urban, working with Kathy Hoyt the Secretary of the Agency of Adminsitration to begin to develop the single portal concept. The administration has done well to appoint people to top executive branch positions who have committed themselves to the strategic development of e-government in their departments and agencies. I urge the legislature and the Courts to coordinate with these important efforts. The judiciary systems at all levels can use information technology to fully open their deliberations, calendars, and decisions to the public. And Egovernment can make a meaningful difference connecting the public with their elected representatives. With appropriate leadership and attention Vermont can make wise investments in eGovernment while our economy continues to be strong.
As noted in the Council for Excellence in Government's E-government Report, "this is one of those exciting moments in time when leaders are challenged to act, with imagination and determination, to achieve the quantum leaps that electronic government makes possible." Not only can information technology improve the delivery of services to our citizens, but by making government more efficient it will reduce our operating costs. Indeed, I think we will see that a well-run, efficiently organized Web site that offers useful services to citizens may have a significant positive effect on public spirit and the attitude of citizens toward government. So this winter I am imagining a future for Vermont in which citizens and businesses can interact with a more streamlined, service-oriented government. Government that is accessible 24 hours a day - seven days a week. A government that leaves no one out. E-government. The people are ready. We can do this, together.