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News Release 99-033

Information Technologies Promise to Make Government More Efficient and Responsive

Enormous and wide-ranging research challenges remain

Report cover image

Some Assembly Required: Building a Digital Government ...

April 29, 1999

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The "digital revolution" has equipped New York City police officers with access to precinct-by-precinct information on crime. Advanced technologies allow the state of Texas to use "neural nets" to detect patterns of potential fraud in Medicaid data. The Internal Revenue Service's "e-file" and "Telefile" permit taxpayers to file returns electronically, using only a telephone or a modem.

The potential for information technologies to make governments at all levels more efficient and more responsive to citizens already has been demonstrated. But enormous research challenges in a host of fields--from telecommunications to political science--must still be met if the lessons of small-scale "digital government" projects are to be more widely applied, according to a new report funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), titled "Some Assembly Required: Building a Digital Government for the 21st Century."

"We can already see the transformational potential of digital communications and other advanced technologies in relatively rare government applications,' said Sharon S. Dawes, director of the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University at Albany, State University of New York and the report's lead author. She added that "advanced computing and communications make programs like these technically feasible, but alone they are insufficient for achieving the kinds of services that the public demands and deserves."

Lawrence E. Brandt, who oversees the new Digital Government Program in NSF's Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering (CISE) directorate, said the report provides a perspective on the kinds of research that will need to be carried out to harness digital technologies to serve the complex web of federal, state and local government agencies, public-private partnerships, and private-sector companies that serve citizens.

The report reflects the advice of dozens of researchers in the fields of information, social, behavioral, and computer science who attended a CTG workshop last fall. "This was an interesting mix of consumers and creators of these technologies," Brandt noted. The diversity of disciplines reflects the complex nature of the problems that will have to be overcome to make government databases operate together to be useful to a broad range of users, which is only one challenge of creating an effective "digital government." Such undertakings require expertise in fields as different as the mathematics of database management and the psychology computerinterface design.

As part of its Information Technology for the 21st Century (IT2) Initiative, the Clinton Administration has asked Congress to allow NSF to spend $146 million in fiscal 2000 to conduct fundamental technology research. Some fraction of that money would be spent on multidisciplinary research in areas such as digital government. The six major recommendations contained in the report, Brandt said, will help NSF to devise criteria for judging which proposals have high research merit and are most likely to help improve the efficiency and responsiveness of governments from local city halls to Washington D.C.


Recommendations of "Some Assembly Required: Building a Digital Government"

The report urges NSF to:

  • support research at all levels of government and between the public and private sectors;
  • investigate issues of governance and democratic processes in the digital age;
  • develop methods that address service integration and environmental complexity;
  • seek innovative funding models for Digital Government initiatives;
  • link research and practice to unite academic and government innovations projects;
  • include government program managers in the research selection process through a practitioner advisory group and roles on review panels.

Organizing Committee for "Some Assembly Required: Building a Digital Government"

Sharon S. Dawes, committee chair
Director, Center for Technology in Government
University at Albany, SUNY
Phone: (518) 442-3892 Fax: (518) 442-3886

Tora Bikson, senior scientist
Rand Corporation, Behavioral Sciences Department
Phone: (310) 393-0411 x 7227 Fax: (310)393-4818

Peter A. Bloniarz, research director
Center for Technology in Government
University at Albany, SUNY
Phone: (518) 442-3892 Fax: 518)442-3886
E-mail: pbloniarz@ctg.albany. edu

Lawrence Brandt, program manager for digital government
National Science Foundation
Division of Advanced Scientific Computing
Phone: (703) 306-1981 Fax: (703) 306-0589

Angela Coppola
U.S. Central Intelligence Agency
Phone: (703) 281-8015

Patricia D. Fletcher
Department of Information Systems
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Phone: (410) 455-3154 Fax: (410) 455-1073
E-mail: fletcher@research.umbc. edu

Robert E. Greeves, principal
The Council for Excellence in Government
Phone: (703) 938-3150 Fax: (703) 938-9126

John L. King
Dept. Information & Computer Science
University of California at Irvine
Phone: (714) 856-6388 Fax: (714) 856-4056

Timothy Loewenstein, chair
Board of Supervisors Buffalo County, Nebraska
Chair, NACO Telecom Subcommittee
Phone: (308) 865-4736 Fax: (308) 233-0000

Jerry Mechling, program director
Strategic Computing & Telecommunications
JFK School of Government Harvard University
Phone: (617) 495-3036 Fax: (617) 496-1722
E-mail: jerry_mechling)fs)

Alvin Pesachowitz, chief information officer
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Phone: (202) 260-4600 Fax: (202) 260-0835

Carolyn Purcell, executive director
Texas Department of Information Resources
Phone: (512) 475-4720 Fax: (512) 475-4759

James Ruda
Local government advocate
Dudley, Mass.
Phone: (508) 943-0111 Fax: (508) 949-7626

Jerry Sheehan, education and outreach coordinator
National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Phone: (217) 244-6012 Fax: (217) 244-1987

Greg Woods, deputy director
National Partnership for Reinventing Government
Phone: (202) 632-0150, x 121 Fax: (202) 632-0390

Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-8070, email:
Stephanie Simon, NSF, (518) 442-3895, email:

Program Contacts
Lawrence E. Brandt, NSF, (703) 292-8930, email:

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2018, its budget is $7.8 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 50,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.

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