Speaking here at Virtual Government '99, Morley Winograd, who is also the president of Gore's National Partnership for Reinventing Government (NPR), said the Access America for Seniors Web site was a "great example" of how the "IT revolution" is breaking down the government's "industrial age" infrastructure.
The site operates like a multi-agency "portal" for senior citizens, corralling the online services and information of 15 government agencies -- including the IRS, Administration on Aging, Federal Communications Commission, Housing and Urban Development, General Services Administration, Health Care Financing Information, Veteran Affairs, State Department and Social Security Administration. Social Security houses the site.
New Social Security services
Besides consolidating existing government services for seniors, the access site also features two new services that allow seniors to request both a verification and a statement of the Social Security benefits they receive.
"What Access America for Seniors is about is doing the first stage of breaking the boundaries of our stove pipe, mainframe orientated government structure and providing citizens a wrap-around application that allows them to get done what they want to get done without having to worry about the underlying technology and structure," Winograd said. "[It's] a great example ... of the kind of virtual government that will become 'The Government' in the 21st century." Winograd said NPR's primary goal was to reinvent government. "The word 'reinventing' is designed to show that we want to change the culture and the process of the organizations in our government -- and to do so through the use of information technology," he said.
"It is, after all, information technology which will allow us to eliminate the industrial age boundaries, distinctions and turf of our current government infrastructure."
Access America for Seniors is the first multi-agency portal launched by NPR. In January, Gore announced Access America for Students, a one-stop online service center that will be made available to college students at 10 colleges this fall. Next on the agenda, Winograd said, was a multi-agency site for U.S. businesses, which will feature a database searchable by plain-English terms rather than agency acronyms.
Hot button issues ignored
Winograd's keynote address did not touch on two hot-button issues: the Federal agencies' Y2K compliance and privacy concerns surrounding the use of Federal databases.
On Monday, the House subcommittee on government management, information and technology released a report, which gave the federal government a "C-plus" grade for its readiness for the millennium bug. Key agencies for seniors -- Social Security, VA, HUD and GSA -- received "A" grades, while the Health and Human Services Department only managed a "C-plus."
Privacy concerns have also been raised over the consolidation and use of massive federal databases, touched off last week by the Secret Service's involvement in a plan to compile a national database of driver's license photos.
According to an inside source, the White House is just weeks away from naming a ombudsman to oversee federal privacy issues. The only user information Access America for Seniors will collect is browser type, originating site address and intra-site tracking data.