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Slick technologies streamline government services.

A legislator in Carson City calls the meeting to order. Members of the committee, visible via video screen, raise questions and offer comments--despite the fact they are 450 miles away in Las Vegas.

A mother in Baltimore places a small plastic card in the automatic teller machine (ATM), enters the appropriate code and receives cash. Instead of tapping into a personal bank account, however, this woman is drawing her monthly welfare, child support and food stamps benefits from an electronic account the government replenishes every month.

In decades past, the steam engine and automobile changed where we lived, how we worked and the design of our communities. Today, the silicon chip, personal computer, fiber optics and other information technologies are radically changing our lives, society and the way government functions.

Powerful computers, storage devices and telecommunications networks, as well as new multi-media products that combine video, audio and graphics with computers, allow government to gather information and deliver services in ways not imaginable five years ago.

More and more state and local governments are using technology to streamline operations. More than 15 states have pilot programs on electronic benefits transfer (EBT) systems where plastic cards can be used to obtain public assistance payments from ATM machines, a system first used in Reading, Penn., in October 1984.

EBT systems can eliminate an enormous amount of labor and paperwork and deliver benefits in a timely way with reduced fear of fraud, theft or error. In May, Maryland began the first statewide EBT program that provides multiple benefits through use of the "independence card." Wyoming is planning a program to combine Women, Infants and Children (WIC), food stamps, AFDC and Medicaid benefits.

In Hawaii and California, computer touch screen systems offer information on a variety of government services through multi-media kiosks, much like ATM machines, in shopping centers, grocery stores, libraries and other neighborhood locations.

Through Info/Cal, Californians can register to vote, identify job openings by geographic area, locate day care or preschool centers, determine property values and identify campsites. Hawaii's Access provides information about health, human services, employment and legal services in English, Samoan and Ilocano.

One of the major benefits of these systems is the opportunity for all levels of government to provide a wide range of information and services at a single location, thus reducing costs by eliminating duplication of effort. Both the EBT systems and kiosks offer convenient, 24-hour-a-day service normally available from government offices only during regular working hours.

Electronic classrooms in four rural Mississippi high schools link students by two-way interactive video, audio and data networks. Students participating in the Mississippi FiberNet 2000 project receive instruction from their own teachers and instructors at the Mississippi School for Math and Science, University for Women, and State University.

The statewide learning system spearheaded by the Community College of Maine in 1989 now links colleges and public schools in more than 40 locations. The network also has been used by the governor's office to conduct interactive meetings and by the Legislature to hold public hearings.

Although their systems may not be as sophisticated as the Maine and Mississippi projects, nearly every state is experimenting with or using some form of distance learning to help improve education.

A handful of states also are experimenting with telecommuting in which government employees work from their homes and transmit their day's work over the wires to office computers.

Florida and California have initiated telecommuting pilot projects in an effort to decrease air pollution from automobiles and increase worker productivity Programs have also been started in Fort Collins, Colo., and Seattle, Wash.

The idea behind Hawaii's "telework" center was similar. The thought was to use electronic highways to move work while decreasing the number of people on local roads. A fully equipped telework center was located 20 miles outside of Honolulu. Both employers and employees rated the year-long state pilot project a success, saying it resulted in increased worker productivity, decreased commuting time and savings in gas, parking and car maintenance costs.

The information age offers the opportunity for all levels and branches to work together to streamline operations, enhance service delivery and improve the democratic process. Many state and local governments are using technology to transform the way services are provided rather than simply automating existing processes. They are moving services or education electronically to people, rather than people to government.

For a copy of a recently released paper on this topic by the CSG/NCSL/NGA State Information Policy Consortium, "National Information and Service Delivery System: A Vision for Restructuring Government in the Information Age," or more information, call Jo Anne Bourquard, NCSL, (303) 830-2200.
COPYRIGHT 1993 National Conference of State Legislatures
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computers and automatic teller machine
Author:Bourquard, Jo Anne
Publication:State Legislatures
Date:Aug 1, 1993
Words:773
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