Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 951 - 959)



  Chairman: Good afternoon, welcome to the House of Lords. I am sure you are going to enjoy your visit here this afternoon. For those of us who went to the States, are very pleased indeed to see you again and it is most kind of you to be prepared to come and give further evidence to us following our rather extensive session that we had in Washington. We have all read your further paper very carefully indeed. What I propose this afternoon is that those of us who were fortunate to go to Washington will not actually be posing questions to you, but we will leave it to those of our colleagues who were not able to make the trip and they will lead the questions. We open first of all with a number from Viscount Brookeborough.

Viscount Brookeborough

  951. Good afternoon. I have questions 1, 2 and 3 but I think 1 and 3 really are really linked together. Could I ask you in fact question 2 first. You wrote: "On more than one occasion, in both Washington and in Richmond, I have invited federal leaders in electronic government to visit with my multi-agency advisory body, the Council on Technology Services." Could you please tell us a little more on how COTS works and whether you think that such a body would be appropriate in this country and in Europe?
  (Mr Upson) I would be glad to. First, I have to open by saying that I think that as the First Secretary of Technology in Virginia, I think I am the first person to be able to testify in one week before the House of Representatives and in the House of Lords. The Council on Technology Services that we formed in Virginia is our Inter-Agency Government Technology Management Council. It is more than advisory. It is actually empowered to select its executives from every major department agency, four from higher education and three from local government. It goes to one of the principles that we believe all governments have to consider in putting forward a spectrum of government issues; that is that it is hard to tell people what to do, and the one thing that e-government challenges, and has to break down more than anything else if we are going to be successful, is digital signatures, the change in technology or changing our processes. But the most important and the most difficult thing to change is the stovepipe mentality of agencies, to each do their own thing, stick to their own processes and protect their own turf. If that continues to occur, it is allowed to occur and is not addressed in a management structure, you will never be able to secure the data which is increasingly the perception, as I mentioned before, that data security is probably the principal concern that people have. You will never be able to have a digital signature environment. So our Council is intended to take people empowered with technology and management responsibilities within their agencies, and put them in a larger group, directed by me and reporting to the Governor, that they have a broader mission: to give up their stovepipe—not give up, but consider what they do in a larger context. It is fine to have a digital signature environment in the Department of Motor Vehicles, but that has to be part of a government-wide standard, so we do not have 35 different digital signature environments. And the question that was posed by me three days ago, and two days ago, by Congress was, "Could that work at the Federal level?" At a Federal level, I think you are asking. I think it can. I think you would have to have these agreements again, that the empowered body of individually powerful technology leaders, who are powerful in their own organisation, meet collectively as a body in a formal structure and that important executive management buying, both from the chief executive and the legislature. Without that, you do not have the focus, and you will not be able to accomplish the kind of things that we are talking about today. We have spent a lot of time in putting that management structure together before we actually moved on major, government-wide initiatives, because we wanted to break down that stovepipe mentality.

  952. But is it joined-up government in the electronic world?
  (Mr Upson) Yes, it is.

  953. Can I move back to question one now, where you said: "We are striving to accomplish these goals"—that is, in government—in Virginia, and through our unabashed embrace of technology and innovative thinking, we are achieving results." How are you getting on?
  (Mr Upson) Are we achieving results? What are we doing? Again, it goes to the whole notion of stakeholder driven government. I am glad to be joined by colleagues of mine from the business community from Virginia on this trip here. We also believe that we ask at the very top, "What is government? What should government do in this new—very new—modern age, this new revolution? What is the role of government?" And we believe the role of government is to serve two purposes in Virginia which the Governor has defined. Those are: we want to create the best business environment for technology companies anywhere, and we want to ensure that all our citizens have access to the digital economy. What are the government processes that serve that and how do we get there? We bring stakeholders into the game. I talk about the Council on Technology Services representing not only state government agencies, but the levels of government that we are intersect with. And, by the way, I go back. My recommendation to a Federal government would be to include all levels of government in a management body because that is where the data flows up and down. But I think what we have done—and I apologise for a usually fine American company—but United Parcel Services has packets, and we have some evidence to give to you on a business-led commission that I co-chair, again bringing the stakeholders in the game to develop with us the kind of environment that meets their needs and the needs of the education community in Virginia. We used input. We did not just use input; we had an incredibly participatory environment where we solicited input from the businesses themselves on what kind of legal environment we should have as a state. Of course, then someone would argue why we should we have one, because the internet knows no boundaries. But the result of our work is an Internet Policy Act and the enactment of a uniform commercial code for the information age in Virginia. That law has been now modelled in 14 other states and is a model for Federal legislation that is now in place. But the point is, getting there, we did not do what we usually do in government, at least in the United States, which is to go into our revered chambers and come out with grand solutions and impart our wisdom on our constituents or to try to elicit support. We asked them to help us. Our results are that we have education, business and government all very excited and achieving results in terms of electronic government, in terms of putting in place a legal environment, in terms of attracting attention, attracting new businesses to the Commonwealth; and in terms of really providing focus for, I think, electronic government, which is more than just the processes on the inside.

  954. Thank you. When you are referring to the July 1999 Executive Order, you wrote: "As part of that Executive Order, all Executive Branch agencies will submit to my office by June 1 comprehensive plans for Web enabling . . ." and so on. Has it ever happened, or is it going to happen? Are they happy to do it?
  (Mr Upson) As a matter of fact, again using our Council on Technology Services, getting direction and input on exactly that from our business and education community, we have had a few, but our first ever assessment. We have between 400 and 500 state officials participate in an on-going series of meetings at my office, which is supposed to provide guidelines on exactly what we are looking for and how we do this together. None of us have ever done it before in any government so we are making it up as we go, which I think has got people excited too. But I think what we are going to achieve is every government form in the citizen's use will be available on-line and that is really one of the goals of the First Executive Order. Today—I am not there, I am here—but the Governor is releasing an Executive Order among Deputy Secretaries, explaining it to all agency heads, that will take the plans that are being submitted in July and put in place a digital signature implementation plan. My Council on Technology Services has spent 11 months putting together a comprehensive digital signature plan that looks at laws that had to be changed so that we can allow electronic signatures, that looks at the technology, the kinds of standards that we are going to adopt as a state so that we will have different levels of security for different kinds of signatures that are required. We will have a full implementation of a digital signature plan so that when those on-line priorities come into my office in July, citizens not only will be able to take a form of the internet and download it. Our vision for what we are trying to achieve with the first set of Executive Orders is this. A citizen, looking to a single port, will be able to execute multiple transactions across multiple agencies with a single digital signature. So the second Executive Order gives it the implementation of a digital signature initiative, among other things.

  955. Is COTS popular outside the people whom you have actually instructed? Do you have people clamouring at your door, given the opportunity that is there now?
  (Mr Upson) Is COTS popular? We meet monthly and we have seven sub-committees and we reach into the agencies, education and local government communities, and our sub-committees have up to 65 members, and they are broken out into digital signatures, seat management, our IT work force inside the government, data security and privacy. We reach into the private sector. We have our private sector participation and our sub-committees, and it is one of the most popular monthly government meetings that we have in the Virginia government. We usually have over one hundred—it is a public meeting—private sector and public sector attendees. So again, it gets to that notion of trying to create the binding—get to where we need to go because people want to get there. If you get that satisfied up front, I think the rest is easy. The issues, in my view in 23 years of growing up with this industry, never are about technology. The technology is always there to do things. The problem, I think, all of us face is the speeches about computers in schools are always a different speech than about education. What we are trying to do is bring all those people together so that those speeches become one and the same, and that gets us working on it all together.


  956. Just for the record, could I ask you just to confirm that by the 31 December this year you hope to have in place the technology for all forms for all the agencies in Virginia to be available to be downloaded by its citizens?
  (Mr Upson) Yes, and we are also— That is true. And in addition to that we have our digital signatures pilots out there now that, I believe, will validate and support the kinds of standards that the Council develop so that, in real time, we will also be able to execute those forms over the internet rather than just download them and mail them in. When you think about it, it is kind of silly what we do with our taxes.

  957. So it will be one way traffic for the time being?
  (Mr Upson) I am sorry?

  958. It will be one way traffic—it will be from the state to the citizen in downloading. What is the interaction back into the state itself from the citizen? The percentage level?
  (Mr Upson) In terms of what we can do right now?

  959. What it will be like after the 31 December?
  (Mr Upson) I cannot give you a percentage, but I can give you three quick examples. Taxes: we had 160,000 forms filed online last year. We put in place a new modern tax reporting system online, where literally you can do the complete transaction, not just print it out and mail it in. It is up to 560,000 this year. Drivers' licences: first, we are the only state in the country where you can renew a driver's licence online and it is a very easy process. It is one thing to be able to go online and get your pin number and go through that process. Our database is, we search it, we send it to you; we give you the pin number and, if you wait until the very last minute before your licence expires, you can still conduct the transaction, and print out the receipt. When you print out the receipt, the police are notified that your licence is valid and the receipt is a valid driver's licence. That is the kind of service. That service everybody is using. The public—we have a 90 per cent customer satisfaction with our Department of Motor Vehicles. The third is our regulatory town hall. If you are working with the Federal Government at any stage, you are trying to follow regulations. Every day you have to look at a State Register or Federal Register. In Virginia we have a new law since last year, requiring all agencies to print their regulations electronically and to receive input electronically. Let us say you are interested in the environmental regulations in Virginia. You just type that in, put an email address in and you never have to search again. We will send you an e-mail when the time comes for change. So those are real examples. I am not sure if I have the percentage available. That is a good question.

  Chairman: Lord Bradshaw? Have you a question?

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