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Government services on the Net

Vice President Gore unveils a plan to make goverment services more accessible through the Net.

Government services should be more readily available to citizens through the Net, according to a plan unveiled by Vice President Al Gore today called "Access America."

A week after President Clinton's State of Union speech, which touted the Net as a critical part of America's future, "Access America" lays out 1,200 actions to bring government services into the digital age.

"The idea of reengineering through technology is critical. We didn't want to automate the old, worn processes of government. Information technology was and is the great enabler for reinvention," Gore said.

Already endorsed by the president, "Access America" will, for example, put the entire student loan and community grant application processes online, provide Medicare information and payment capabilities on a smart card for senior citizens, and give businesses export assistance over the Net.

With pilot projects slated to begin next January and a goal to complete the plan by the year 2000, the report leaves out one important question: "Who will pay?"

Even the vice president acknowledges the significance of this issue in his introductory letter: "This report does not contemplate increases to the president's budget. Indeed, done well, these projects will be a source of savings."

Gore is pushing the idea that with the right technology the government will save time and money. Overseen by Government Information Technology Services, "Access America" will encompasses local, state, and federal agencies in everything from commerce to the criminal justice system.

"Taken together, the recommendations here paint a picture of the kind of government we should have as we begin the next century," Gore said. "It will be a government where all Americans have the opportunity to get services electronically and where, aided by technology, the productivity of government operations will be soaring."

Even before "Access America" kicks in, the administration plans to incorporate technology that "will assure the public of security and privacy in their transactions." This promise will most likely be examined thoroughly by privacy advocates who have been fighting off the government's effort get copies of keys to encryption software, keys that would allow them to decrypt encryped communications.

The administration also says it will partner with private industry. In addition, it pledges to bring the Net to rural areas of the country.

Photo by Callie Shell, The White House