Recently I discovered a great website for viewing bills as they are proposed in the Connecticut General Assembly. One area that the media has not been covering but where the legislature and governor are not slacking is in integrating technology with government. The shifting of government practices from paper to electronic records is now commonly referred to as e-government. The primary advantage of this besides increasing efficiency is it also makes government more easily accessible to its citizens.
Both the Governor and Sen. Doyle and Rep. Guerrera have been proposing bills that make progress in this area. One bill creates an e-government board. It directs that an e-government plan be created and that a user survey be developed for the state website. I think this bill is a great start and I hope that in addition to the user survey the people in charge of the website utilize techniques like A/B testing to optimize user experience as well.
A bill proposed by the Governor orders the creation of an eRegulations system. It further directs that, “[t]he eRegulations System shall be easily accessible to and searchable by the public.” It is my hope that “easily accessible and searchable” includes the creation of an API and allowing bulk downloads of the data. Currently certain regulations and advisory opinions are available online but only in PDF. While PDFs are a universal format, they are not great for searching or building applications on top of.
Another bill expands the mission of the Commission for Educational Technology to encompass technology throughout the state. It renames it the Commission for Technology Advancement and adds the following to its mission:
(A) Increasing the availability and usage of technology that promotes efficiency in operation and increased digital literacy across the state; (B) Increasing and improving usage of high-speed, cost effective network technology to meet collaboration demands of state and local government and private industry;
On the other end of the spectrum Sen. Musto proposed a bill to allow agencies to remove information from their websites. While I can understand the desire of agencies and administrators to want flexibility in their website design, it is not a best practice to remove information from websites because it can break external links from places like Wikipedia. The cost of storing and providing information is extremely low and the benefit of making it available is high. We need not require the agency to keep every bit of information on its front page, but it should keep the information on the server and be accessible through search and direct links.
Another good bill is one proposed by Rep. Alberts that limits the charge for documents that are scanned and sent electronically to $0.10 a page. The cost of transmitting electronic records is minimal, and is mostly a factor of the labor that goes into doing so. By building systems that allow users to access electronic records without employee intervention, the government can help minimize and eliminate the labor cost. However many older records have not been made electronic yet. I believe this bill strikes a good balance and promotes access to public information.
I will keep tabs on these bills and keep an eye out for other interesting e-government bills as well. Feel free to share your thoughts on these in the comments.