Chapter 1: Electronic Government
Texas government still has a long way to go to realize the full benefits of the Internet. According to the 2000 Digital State Survey, conducted by Government Technology magazine and the Progress and Freedom Foundation, the state ranks:
These results are good, but not good enough to put Texas in a leadership position for the future. Minor tinkering will not produce a workable Internet Age government. In the next five years, the Internet and related technologies will not only transform the way most public services are delivered (and who delivers them), but it will redefine the fundamental relationship between Texans and their government. To get there, we will need to make major changes in the way government thinks and acts.
4th in law enforcement and the courts
5th in social services
11th in e-commerce
11th in taxation/revenue
11th in digital democracy
25th in management/administration
Create a Virtual “Front Counter” for Texas Government
It won’t happen overnight, but information technology has shown that government can be reorganized “virtually” to better meet the needs of its citizens in a relatively short period of time. The Internet easily can cut across organizational boundaries, simplify access, and provide information so existing government structures can better suit customer needs. Texas’ state portal, TexasOnline, is the first step in creating customer-facing virtual government.
Bold action from the state’s legislative and executive leadership and a willingness to break with past practices will be necessary for Texas to achieve a government truly oriented to citizens and businesses. Three things that could help would be to establish a Program Management Office in the Department of Information Resources to coordinate Texas e-government efforts, develop robust information portals for key functional areas within state government and integrate local governments into the state portal.
Enhance Democracy by Expanding Electronic Voting
The 2000 presidential election has put a spotlight on the need for election reform. Razor-thin margins in a number of states including Florida have highlighted irregularities in the various voting methods available. In particular, the punch-card ballot has received extensive press coverage. In 1993, the results of a local Boston election were reversed after authorities discovered errors caused by incompletely detached or “hanging” chads, the small pieces of paper on a ballot to be punched out by voters.
These highly publicized controversies over current election practices could be avoided in Texas by expanding the authority of the Texas Secretary of State (SOS) to establish uniform ballots, ensuring consistency and fairness across voting jurisdictions. The SOS should investigate new electronic voting options that are both feasible, cost-effective and accurate for as many Texas counties as possible.
Make It Easier to do Business with the State
Texas is a great state, but dealing with Texas state government can be a frustrating and exhausting experience for citizens whose hard-earned tax dollars go to finance a government they often cannot comprehend nor navigate. Frustrations in determining what is required to open a business in Texas can be enough to discourage budding entrepreneurs from carrying out their plans or divert established out-of-state businesses to other, more business-friendly areas.
One way that Texas could make it easier to do business with the state would be to provide online one-stop shopping for businesses. Citizens should be able to obtain needed business start-up information from one single and convenient place, regardless of business type or permits required. The state should also offer online occupational and professional licensing through the portal.
Reporting requirements are resource intensive for the regulated community as well as state government. Electronic filing is faster, cheaper and cuts down on paper. State agencies should provide electronic reporting alternatives for businesses and individuals and offer electronic grant application processes for nonprofit organizations and local governments.
Improve Privacy Protection for Citizens and Businesses
Databases and personalization software make it easy to compile a profile of individual citizens and businesses. While individual pieces of information collected from different agencies may seem harmless, when compiled they may allow someone to apply for credit cards, bank loans, make purchases, or apply for a job in someone else’s name. Thus, new technology has been accompanied by new concerns about the availability of personal information.
Texas long has followed a tradition of open government, providing most public documents to its citizens upon request. However, with the advent of the Internet, the wholesale release of government information on citizens has caused huge problems and generated significant controversy. For some, it is mere inconvenience from unwelcome solicitors. For others, there is a very real fear that their personal data can and will be used against them by the unscrupulous. Texas should enact a privacy act patterned after existing federal and state legislation to establish guidelines to protect citizen information gathered by government entities from inappropriate disclosure.
Increase the “Transparency” of Texas Government
Information technology provides powerful tools for improving the public’s access to information in easily understandable formats. Many states already are making efforts to put vital information online, and within a few years, citizens should be able to visit Texas’ Web site and find a wealth of data with just a few clicks of the mouse.
The Comptroller of Public Accounts should centralize and provide public access to information relating to special districts assessing ad valorem and sales taxes in Texas. The state also should create an electronic data clearinghouse, and amend state law to allow local governments to participate in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund (TIF).
 The Center for Digital Government, the Progress and Freedom Foundation and Government Technology Magazine, “2000 Digital State Survey” (http://www.centerdigitalgov.com/center/survey.phtml). (Internet document.)