Reprinted with the permission of the Atlanta Journal and the Atlanta Constitution.
New agency would help state services go online
Long waits in line to buy a birth certificate or renew a driver's license could be replaced by a click of the computer mouse and a few keystrokes under Gov. Roy Barnes' plan to revolutionize the way the state does business.
Auto tags could be purchased via the Internet. Stores could pay their state sales tax on the Web. An array of state permits and licenses could be issued without a single face-to-face encounter with a bureaucrat.
Students at Georgia colleges and universities could register and pay for their classes electronically.
Not exactly the high-tech lifestyle of the Jetsons, but a far cry from what Georgia state government now provides.
"The idea is every service you can do with state government that you have to do in person you ought to be able to do on the Web,'' said Barnes.
The governor's proposal could make many Internet services available in as little as two years, or far sooner than any previous timetable, said Tom Bostick of the state's Internet agency.
But before Georgians can begin mouse-clicking their way through state services, Georgia must clear some major technological hurdles. The first step is legislation Barnes soon will introduce to create a new chief information officer and a board of directors to coordinate and approve all state technology purchases --- computer hardware, software and telecommunications equipment.
Even though Georgia already spends up to $500 million a year on those items and support personnel, the state's computer systems are an unconnected patchwork with no uniform bookkeeping system to allow ongoing internal audits or even a running balance sheet to show the state's overall financial position. That's one reason, administration officials said, that recent employee thefts from state cafeteria and parking concessions and budget shortfalls at Georgia Public Broadcasting weren't detected earlier.
"There aren't any standards,'' said Jim Flowers, the governor's technology adviser. "All the agencies were left largely on their own to determine what path to take. They can't share data. They can't share resources. It makes for a very challenging way of operating the government."
One possibility is consolidating the technology department under the governor's office. Republicans side with him on the technology issue, at least.
"I would be supportive of any effort to improve the management of taxpayer funds and to improve efficiency in hardware and software among state agencies," said Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson (R-Savannah).
Between 35 and 40 states have similar information officers, according to information from groups including the Council of State Governments and the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.
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