Thesis on IT in public administrationWritten around 2000
Information technology (hereinafter “IT”) has been affecting a number of spheres of human activities and its influence is expected not only to grow, but to expand into other areas. Therefore there are many points of view of the introduction of IT in the area of public administration (hereinafter “PA”).
This document does not aspire to encompass all aspects of IT in PA in detail; it rather attempts to outline certain potential measures that might lead to the improvement of the use of IT and its larger expansion in PA, and, thereby, secondarily, in the entire society. As a result of this, and partly as a result of a lack of information (both objective and subjective), certain data in this document might be incomplete, distorted or be based on my subjective evaluation. At certain places, where I am not sure, I even use notes in the “ich” form. I would like to ask you to kindly be tolerant.
The implementation of computers in PA commenced spontaneously already in the early nineties. At the very beginning, the efforts were mainly aimed at replacing typewriters by means that is more suitable for the purpose in hand (i.e. writing documents). In principle, we can talk about development of IT in PA from the middle of the nineties, when lower prices of and progress in technological equipment enabled the interconnection computers and data sharing; a great incentive is undoubtedly the extensive use of the Internet for both communication and presentation.
The characteristic feature of the beginning of the use of IT in PA is mainly spontaneity. In particular as a result of a personal initiative, local systems arise within the framework of individual bodies and institutions of PA, which systems are mutually “incompatible”.
Systems often came into existence on the basis of “branch-related” initiative (commercial register, the system of customs administration, trades licences register etc.). Note: In this connection, I would like to highlight the publication of the Commercial Register on the web pages of the Ministry of Justice, which is far from being usual even in economically more developed countries.
During several years, IT has become such an important political matter that first steps were taken on a “central” level. Certain documents were adopted (state information policy, concept of creating information systems of PA, action plan, etc.), bodies were established (ÚSIS/ÚVIS, Council of the Government for SIP, etc.) and first steps taken in the area of legislation (electronic signature, personal data protection etc.).
After the failure of ÚSIS, a thesis was adopted that, on the central level and in addition to more or less political bodies having a similar nature as the Council of the Government for SIP, only one body will be established, which will coordinate and standardize the cooperation between the information systems of PA (this was simply said – for details see Act No. 365/2000 Coll.).
Work is carried out on the creation/unification of basic registers and their mutual interconnection within PA, and, as the case may be, even on their publication (cadastral register). The www.centralni-adresa.cz web page was created, from which one should have an access to all information from PA.
Further steps are taken, which are aimed at “opening” PA to citizens (projects of information kiosks, e-government, etc.). In this connection, it is necessary to mention also Act No. 106/99 Coll., which, despite all problems, constitutes a fundamental break-through in the enforcement of public control over PA.
Three types of interests are merging and conflicting with each other:
a) local/individual (individual PA entities are, as a result of individual circumstances, ready/willing to use IT to a various extent and on various levels, as well as to become “open” to the public)
b) branch – related (in the area of central registers and databases, the logical consequence is the enormous efforts to unify and unite, since these processes result in increased effectiveness)
c) central (in addition to the fact that this constitutes quite a popular political topic, this constitutes a logical effort to coordinate/unify/make available local an branch-related information and enable their mutual interaction)
Since ÚVIS has been active for quite a short period of time, it cannot be unambiguously evaluated whether and to what extent the intention grows to be fulfilled.
It is necessary to note that the target situation, as described bellow, is not in fundamental contradiction with the target situation that is specified in the state information policy and other documents dealing with IT in PA.
In certain areas, as for instance, in the area of the necessary securing of data against their abuse, “interactivity” of basic registers (of citizens, economic entities, real estate, etc.), electronic registries etc., we may nothing than identify ourselves with the steps that are being taken or that have already been taken.
However, there are many areas in which we can proceed further and farer than intended, as stems from the relevant documents:
The area of “information literacy” (hereinafter “IT literacy”) of PA employees
In connection with a spontaneous conviction and practical knowledge about the necessity of using IT in PA, computer literacy is, as a rule, required when new PA employees are hired (it may be even a requirement set out by law for certain levels of management). However, I do not know how this qualification is verified, to what extent and by whom.
a) To set out (in legislation) a strict requirement for IT literacy of all newly hired PA employees (or to strictly set out that such qualified employees will have absolute priority over the others participating in tenders, and to strictly determine that “IT illiterate” employees will only be hired for employment relationships to be concluded for a definite period of time of – let us say – two years, after then, the tender must be re-opened)
b) To set out a deadline (e.g. 4 years) for all existing employees, by which deadline they will have to submit a certificate of IT literacy (in order to replace those who fail to do so, a tender will be opened and the procedure set out in point a) above will be applied)
As a certificate of IT literacy, I suggest the obtaining of ECDL (see www.ecdl.cz) – computer licence. Attention!!! Any certificate of IT literacy must be issued by entities OUTSIDE public administration – any “internal” certificate would result in a formal nature and pure quality of such certificate!!! Any further improvement of qualification by means of internal training courses is not hereby excluded.
In a relatively short period of time, sufficient personnel resources will be created for the functioning of “paperless” PA and for use of IT to a larger extent and in other areas.
Given the number of PA employees, we can expect a considerable increase in consciousness about the importance of IT literacy in the society, and an increased demand for obtaining IT qualification from both PA employees and other citizens. By increasing the demand, also the offer of services related with the obtaining of IT qualification will increase, which (again) will not be oriented exclusively on PA employees, but also on other citizens.
Use of IT for communication, classification and archiving documents
In banks and insurance companies, the costs for processing, classification and archiving documents constitute approximately 9% of all of their costs (compare Euro, May 2000), and although a similar statistics very likely does not exist for PA, it can be expected that the data will definitely not be lower.
The action plan of the SIP implementation has one aim: so that 10% of contacts in PA be carried out in the electronic form by the end of 2002. In other words: 10% of PA will be “paperless”. With regard to the fact that the mutual communication between the PA bodies forms a non-negligible part of contacts within PA and given the fact that nothing prevents the electronic signature to be introduced in practice in (several) months, this aim is quite modest.
To create technical and personnel (see the point dealing with IT literacy of PA employees) conditions for PA transition to 90% “paperless” communication within PA and 100% in the area of documents archiving, all of that within 4 years. In two years to transfer PA to 100% “paperless” communication in the area of contacts with citizens where a filing is made in an electronic form.
In addition to making PA cheaper, PA would secondarily initiate communication with citizens through IT, since the electronic form will be the standard, the paper form will be a residuum, which will be necessary for “paper” communication with those citizens, who cannot/do not want to use IT and no one may force them to do that. Since the electronic communication with PA will be adequate and, at the same time, will be more comfortable and cheaper, a logical tendency will arise to obtain a computer and the internet connection in each household. The desire for comfort and economic advantage will place “domestic” computers on the level of e.g. automatic washing machine in a much better way than the most sophisticated state-planned administrative support of “domestic” computers.
Publicity, public control
From the legislative point of view, the keystones in this area are Act No. 148/98 Coll., on the protection of concealed information, Act No. 101/00 Coll., on the personal data protection, and Act No. 106/99 Coll., on the free access to information. Simply said, the first two acts define the area that is not public, Act. No. 106/99 sets out the possibility of citizens to request any information. However, certain imperfections of Act No. 106 have shown in practice. In particular the fact that a specific request for the provision of certain information presumes at least a partial knowledge of exactly what the citizen wants to ask about, and further the fact that the possibility requesting a fee for providing the information may discourage a citizen, as well as the fact that there is no clear solution for what to do, if, for instance, a business secret clause is inconsistent with the provision of specific information.
On the basis of various „local“ and „branch-related“ initiatives, web presentations of a majority of PA institutions have been created, which differ in both quality and quantity of information provided. The central address was put into operation on a central level. The advantage of the web presentations is the classification of information and relatively easy orientation; the disadvantage is the necessity of their permanent maintenance and updating, as well as the fact that it depends on each institution, what information it wants to/will present.
Note: From the point of view of the necessity of updating the information, I have to point out that, for instance, ÚVIS, within the scope of its web presentation of current news (there are two of them) draws attention to a tender which was closed in 1998!
To set out the obligation of PA, by legislative means, to publish all information on the network, which information is not non-public by virtue of law.
Note: e.g. in respect of agreements which do not have a special nature (for instance in respect of supplies relating to the issues of the security of the state) there is no rational reason why these should be subject to a trade secret. Tax payers have an indisputable right to have the information on for what and under what conditions their money is expended. On the other hand, the extent of publishing the information regarding entities/individuals to which/whom social benefits are paid is a matter of a social consensus. I can imagine that, in addition to the information that is automatically published on the network, there will also be information whose “publicity” will be such as within the meaning of current Act No. 106 – this means that the citizen will have the opportunity to request it in a specific case.
I would even go beyond the framework of the European directive, which excludes those outputs, which have an “internal” nature, from the obligation to make them public.
Given the above-cited requirement for “paperless” PA, it cannot be presumed that the obligatory publication of all information would represent any technical problem.
The task of the “centre” would, inter alia, include the setting out of the common minimum standard that will be the same for all “headers” of PA outputs, for searching in them according to various criteria *) and, as the case may be, for the automatic updating of references on web pages similar to the Central address.
*)Note: A minimum standard of data, which must be contained in the „header“ of any output of PA, would set forth centrally (e.g. date and time, specification of the employee responsible for the output, file No., reference..., a majority of which could be generated automatically - the load on PA employees should be as small as possible). In branches and locally there would logically arise (or even now partly exist) other standards, according to which the outputs could be further classified and processed.
The access to the information would be based on the principle of PA’s obligation to make an output public, unless it is prohibited by law.
Almost absolute public control would, step-by-step, require the making of PA more effective (removal of any unnecessary activities and institutions) and the strengthening of the feeling of all PA employees that they may be liable for their activities not only vis-à-vis their superior employee, but directly to tax payers.
I suggest that the following measures, which are undergoing in the IT area in PA, be spread in the above-cited areas, and thereby in 4 years:
• To practically arrange for 100% IT literacy of PA employees
• To reform PA so that it can be potentially 100% paperless
• To arrange for almost absolute public control over PA
all of that with limiting “central” interference to merely system-oriented measures, which will support the interaction of independently developing local and branch-related information systems.