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E-government for The 21st Century

Monday, June 5, 2000

It’s great to be here in the fabled Research Triangle, to talk about America’s future. It’s great to be here at North Carolina State’s Centennial Campus – in the middle of what is rightly called the campus of the future.

I’m here to invite you and the American people to join me in making a national commitment to create a more responsive form of government – we might think of it as “e-government” – in which the best of government services are on-line and interactive, so the people have their government at their fingertips – and so they can help create solutions themselves and better take charge of their own communities and lives.

Today, I’m releasing a comprehensive plan for the kind of Information Age government I want to create.

With your help, as President, I will lead a second American revolution – to make our self-government far less costly, far more effective, and far more relevant to every American.

Americans are the experts on the problems and solutions in their own communities. The Internet should be put to the service of community and citizen empowerment in a whole new way -- so every citizen, whether in the Research Triangle or a small town square, can instantly tap new skills, new tools, access to information about everything from health care to education, and even access to capital to start or ramp up your own business. The government on-line should help you remove barriers to opportunity, and find new knowledge to help you take on a disability. The power of government should not be locked away in Washington, but put at your service -- no further away than your keyboard.

People don’t care at all what department or agency or office has specific jurisdiction over the information or tools or resources that you need. And you shouldn’t have to care. You shouldn’t have to fill out endless forms, or worry about somebody who’s having a bad day giving you the runaround. You shouldn’t have to wait in line to communicate with your self-government. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to expect that every week will bring more examples of obvious waste and inefficiency. You should be able to have a sense of confidence and high expectation in the years ahead as you relate to a new system of e-government.

With your help, I will tear down all the barriers between the different departments and agencies of our government, and obliterate the barriers between you and the clear, understandable, responsive common sense that you have a right to expect.

Imagine being able to call up in the blink of an eye a list of every health plan in your area -- to judge for yourself which offered the best quality of care. You could speak to a specialist, halfway across the country -- to talk about your treatment, discover the latest medical advances that concerned you or a loved one, or get the best advice on your medication.

Imagine when community policing gets the help of ordinary citizens committed to law and order in their neighborhoods and willing to join together to keep the peace. Every citizen and police department could share resources, logging onto an interactive map of crime trends in every neighborhood. And the citizens would help shape the database because they are the real experts in the lives of their communities: a homebound grandmother could send an officer an instant e-mail to report dangerous behavior on a street corner, or community members could give leads about crimes to their neighborhood police.

Imagine if a child in the poorest neighborhood could have access to the richest educational materials and most illustrious museums; could turn on a computer at her desk at school, and click her way through the National Gallery -- from the stunning landscapes of Georgia O’Keefe, to the majestic portraits of Frederick Remington, to the richly complex works of Jackson Pollack.

And imagine what those breakthroughs, and others yet to be invented by American creativity and curiosity, could do for an electorate that is too often alienated, and often feels voiceless in a system corroded by special interests and powerless to make change.

Imagine how such electronic forms of citizen empowerment could help restore our faith in self-government -- our trust in a true American community, where we can all share in the greatest gifts of our time and have a direct say in how we govern ourselves.

Imagine how the cost of government will go down, and how our pride in the way our democracy works will go up. You have seen in the last few years what this revolution can mean in the way you relate over the Internet to businesses that didn’t exist before you started surfing the Web. You know what I’m talking about when I describe this vision of e-government.

I know we can do this together. I know how we can do this together. And I know that every single tool that we need to make this vision a reality already exists. The only piece that remains to be put in place is the mandate that I am asking you for today.

This is about something far greater than government services, or government streamlining. It is the heart of what we must do to revitalize the ideal that has animated our democracy since its founding – that the people are the master and government is the servant.

We have to make that ideal real in each new generation. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “our laws and institutions must move forward hand-in-hand with the progress of the human mind.”

The United States has proven the principle that the average citizen is the best decision-maker.

Early in our history, if you had a question about your taxes, or your retirement benefits, you could visit a government office in person. In fact, that was often the only choice you had.

That’s why, in President Lincoln’s day, our government opened agricultural field offices within a single day’s horseback ride of every farmer in America.

And by the way -- we ended that policy in this administration, over 130 years later.

I must say, it’s a wonderful illustration of bureaucracy – a policy designed to help people with horses outlasted the coming of the railroad and the invention of the automobile.

After the Civil War, veterans who wanted to get their pensions had to come all the way to Washington, DC, to personally visit the pension office. There is still a massive, high-ceilinged lobby in that building – designed so veterans could leave their horses there when they applied for their pensions. That was the 19th Century’s idea of customer service.

In fact, let me tell you a little more about it. If you were a veteran, you had to wait around for a clerk to look through all the Civil War records, until your papers were found. The papers were bound with red tape – which was cut to see if you were in fact eligible for a pension. And so a whole generation of Americans learned about “cutting red tape.”

This generation can do that with e-government. By putting public services on-line, we will make dramatic savings – eliminating not only the red tape, but most of the paper that used to be wrapped in the tape.

I will set clear goals, and I tell you today that we will measure the performance of e-government regularly and rigorously. I will put progress reports on line, so every American can see what we’ve been able to achieve – and where we’ve fallen short. And the reports will be interactive, so people can e-mail their own ideas, tell us about the special challenges in their own communities, and help us shape solutions. In this way, we can make e-government a true Information Age town square – which can be a unique, 21st Century contribution to the vision and the reality of self-government.

E-government will be accessible, and easy for families to use. We will protect the privacy of all Americans – because the right to privacy is a fundamental right, which calls for special safeguards in the Information Age. We have to make all e-government a model of good conduct and the right values on the Internet. For example, we will make sure people with disabilities can log on and get any special help they need in a way they can use it. And we have to make sure the American people have their complaints heard and answered – quickly and fully.

I’ll push for tens of billions of dollars in savings by making all major government purchases on the Internet. We’ll create a new on-line auction site – we’ll call it “g-bay” – to sell off equipment the government no longer needs. And then we’ll invest the savings in even greater efficiency, more innovation, and better services for our people.

If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, together we can use this technology to ensure that by 2004, we can look back on the time before e-government, and it will seem as outdated and antiquated as government before the telephone seems today.

There is no longer any reason for any of us to accept a one-size-fits-all approach in the public sector. Together, we will transform America’s collection of ramshackle bureaucracies into an e-government that works for you – each and every one of you.

In doing so, we will seize upon the explosive potential of the Internet across our entire society.

When the first computer was invented 55 years ago, it took up 15,000 square feet. When the head of IBM saw it for the first time, he asked why it was so hot in the room. It was because that computer needed 18,000 radio tubes just to keep running.

Today, there is more computer power in a small pocket calculator that costs about ten dollars. And generates a lot less heat.

A few years ago, I was talking with a group of college students about the amazing pace of technology. And I pointed out that if today’s cars made the same advances as computers, a Cadillac would get 100,000 miles to the gallon -- and cost about 50 cents.

Then one of the students in the front row said: “Sure, but it would be about this big.”

Well, today’s breakthrough products may not always be big – but tomorrow’s horizons are limitless.

In 1992, only a small number of physicists were using the World Wide Web. There were only 50 web sites. Today, there are 300 million people connected to the Web on every part of the globe.

So far, only a third of all manufacturers do business on-line – and e-commerce accounts for less than one percent of all sales.

But a new report today from the Commerce Department that I released this morning shows that even at that level, the impact on our economy is already enormous.

Information technology has contributed almost a third of all our economic growth in the past five years. It is enabling small start-ups to compete with large corporations, across all industries. It has led to higher wages for American families, and higher incomes at all income levels; and it has generated as much as half of all our productivity growth in recent years.

Our challenge now is to make this technology work for all of our people.

Black or white, rich or poor, a Ph.D. or a self-taught genius, the Internet reflects back your guts and your gifts, not your complexion or gender. A CEO or a self-taught cyber-surfer, a busy housewife with a vision and a marketing plan, or a group of guys working after hours in someone’s garage -- whoever you are, the Internet doesn't care so long as you have a good idea. This has helped turn our best values into reality by helping to open the gates to a more level playing field.

We need a national commitment to move America ahead and keep America at the forefront of the new economy – to create more jobs and more high-paying jobs. I believe we should double America’s investment in information technology – and make sure the Internet remains a global free trading zone.

We must finish the job of connecting every classroom and library in America to the Internet. From the poorest inner-city school district to the finest magnet school -- every child should have access to the same vast store of knowledge and discovery.

America was the pioneer of universal education; now let’s set a goal for the first decade of the 21st Century: let’s make America the first nation on Earth with universal computer literacy. We’ll post that goal on the Internet, and ask every part of government and every level of government – from our Education Department and the National Science Foundation to local school boards – to help us meet it. We’ll involve our universities and the private sector. The emphasis will be on results, not red tape.

We must also launch a new crusade – again calling on both public and private resources -- to move toward full Internet access in every home, for every family, all across the United States. The next Thomas Edison or Marie Curie may be a child waiting in a ghetto or a rural hollow for the tools to learn and experiment; let's get him -- or her -- wired and on-line. We must not rest until Internet access is as common as telephone access in every American household.

And then we must put the most effective, the most responsive, the most interactive e-government we can create on every desktop in America – so that every home, every office, and every classroom are truly wired for democracy. We can harness the newest technology to advance our oldest and most fundamental goals and values.

Imagination, properly focused, has always been the inexhaustible spiritual energy which we have applied to the productive work we are intended to do on this Earth as Americans. In this way, America has given the world great gifts.

If I’m entrusted with the Presidency, I will work for a government that strives to be as good as our best technology – and as good as the American people.

I will work for an e-government that uses the Internet and the information technology to make real improvements and real empowerment to all our people.

And I will bring government closer to our people – just a couple of clicks away from every citizen, everywhere in this nation.

You are on the front lines of the revolution in technology. Let’s use it to restore trust in government’s most basic mission: to help, to serve, to listen, and to respond to the American people. Thank you.



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