Making state government work better is now the job of Gov. Dan Malloy and his administration. Combined with their need to confront the state’s $3.4 billion budget deficit, Mr. Malloy and his team should turn to increasingly important tools of e-governance to make state services more convenient for citizens and less expensive for taxpayers.
E-governance, or the use of new technology to make government more efficient and effective, offers the ability for the state to provide information and deliver services to citizens at a far lower cost than the traditional bureaucracy. Connecticut’s current use of e-governance, however, is extremely poor. A new study by the CT Data Partnership highlighted several shortcomings in the state’s ability to share information across agencies, calling them “deplorable.” Citizens’ ability to Interact with state services electronically is equally inadequate. Government Technology magazine notes that while Nebraska has processed over 11 million transactions online, or 6.18 per Nebraskan, Connecticut’s government has handled only 200,000 transactions, or about 0.6 transactions per capita.
A 2008 study by the E-Governance Institute at Rutgers University placed Connecticut’s state websites at 28th in the nation overall, seventh out of nine states in the northeast region, 31st in the subcategory of usability and a disappointing 48th in the services subcategory describing the quantity and quality of state services that are accessible online. The Center for Digital Government has awarded Digital Achievement Awards to states that innovate on the Internet for a decade but Connecticut has never even been a finalist.
E-governance tools allow government to deliver services faster and at a lower cost to the taxpayer. At the federal level, such innovations are estimated to have saved the federal government more than $1 billion. The transformation doesn’t have to be difficult or particularly expensive, either, as numerous other state governments provide examples that can be replicated.
In Connecticut, the Department of Motor Vehicles website advises potential customers that that “Wednesdays, Thursday mornings, and Fridays” are the best times to visit a local office. Potential visitors to a Department of Motor Vehicles office in Virginia, however, can go online to view up-to-the minute data on the average wait time at their local DMV office and for nearby alternative locations, allowing them to choose the shortest line and make the entire system more efficient.
Citizens interested in finding out the results of state elections in Arizona can use the Web to track unofficial election results in real time via the secretary of state’s website, which offers easy methods for downloading data and a helpful mapping feature to visualize the results. Connecticut’s comparable system from the Secretary of the State offers neither the ability to download data in a format other than PDF nor visualization features and doesn’t do it in anything close to real time.
Utah’s award-winning Utah.gov portal offers users easy access to government records and data, a localized calendar with current information on civic meetings and even the ability to download iPhone apps among just a few of the 1,249 state services provided online (the site tells you that, too). Connecticut’s CT.gov, by comparison, offers none of these tools.
The transformation isn’t about having the coolest toys but rather about delivering the best service at the lowest cost and in the shortest amount of time. This effort can give citizens the ability to compete more effectively in the global marketplace. Aggressively using e-governance as a tool to replace the bureaucracy, reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver services, save on current spending, and avoid future costs should be a top priority of Connecticut’s elected officials.
Heath W. Fahle is the policy director at the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a think tank based on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. This article was originally published in the Hartford Courant on Sunday, January 9, 2011.