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Wisconsin to Get Serious about E-Government

A “report card” issued in November by a Washington, DC, think tank slammed Wisconsin’s efforts at implementing electronic government initiatives. But projects currently underway in Madison could raise that score, according to the state’s CIO, Matt Miszewski.

Miszewski, who works within the Department of Administration (DOA) after the Department of Electronic Government was folded into that agency, also said the Center for Economic Development (CFED) missed the mark on some existing electronic government projects in the state when it gave the state a rank of 46th when it comes to electronic public services.

“They certainly missed some of the government services offered online by local governments,” Miszewski said, speaking Nov. 19 between sessions of the Wisconsin Digital Government Summit at Monona Terrace, Madison. “On the statewide level, all I know is that they did not contact me or any of my staff.”

The CFED sourced its data on e-government from State and Federal E-Government in the United States, 2002 -- an annual report published by the Center for Public Policy at Brown University, of Providence, Rhode Island. The individual state ratings are based on analyses of state government Web sites. Criteria included presence of contact information, publications, databases of information, ads, premium fees, restricted areas, user fees, and services as well as disability access, privacy, and security.

According to government IT leaders attending and presenting at the summit, significant work is underway to streamline several government functions, including property tax assessment information used to calculate shared revenue payments to municipalities.
Greg Landretti, Director of the DOR’s Assessment Practices Department, said his group is working on integrating the assessment databases of municipalities. However, according to Miszewski, this integration likely won’t immediately lead to a searchable assessment database like the one offered by the City of Milwaukee.

“With the property tax information, there is a privacy angle we would have to pay attention to,” Miszewski said. “When we facilitate that system, the access will be so simple. There will be a safety angle, and we would have to make sure that people in protected groups – like domestic abuse victims – cannot be located through these records. There is also the problem that this could be a means of people coming up with mass marketing lists. Additional legislation would be necessary before we could make this information available on the public Internet.”

The DOR is also working on a project that will speed up real estate transfers, according to Miszewski.

“The folks at DOR are looking at revising the way they do real estate transfers,” Miszewski said. “Instead of waiting for mortgage settlement documents to come after three to six weeks, it will be more like a few hours. That makes a real difference for someone who has just paid off their mortgage and wants that paper in hand.”

Other state IT initiatives, according to Miszewski and other summit presenters, are being driven by federal regulatory mandates – both funded and unfunded.

“Part of the Homeland Security budget is for justice system information sharing,” Miszewski said. “CCAP (The Consolidated Court Automation Programs) is part of that,” he said. “But for people who work in the justice sector – those folks need to be hooked together with one view of the information. If someone is pulled over for a traffic stop in Wisconsin but has a warrant for their arrest on a murder charge in Illinois and isn’t arrested – that’s no good.”

Another un-funded state IT mandate that the state is dealing with is the Leave No Child Behind Act. While this act, signed in January of 2002 by President George W. Bush, is causing concern among educators, it may be causing as much, if not more, concern among Department of Public Instruction (DPI) professionals charged with tracking and reporting the complex test results required by the act.

Jean Whitcomb, an educational data consultant with DPI who presented at the summit, said that the type of data the department is required to report has changed significantly enough to present major IT roadblocks. The way graduation rates are calculated have changed, according to Whitcomb, and schools must now track how many students start the year, how many graduate, how many move to another school, and how many drop out.

“There are more reporting requirements, more precise definitions for progress and more sanctions for not making progress,” Whitcomb said, stressing that $150 million in federal funding hangs on the state’s ability to meet the reporting requirements. “The act assumes we have student-level data systems.”

To manage the task of following student progress on an individual level, Whitcomb said DPI is creating two systems – an Individual Student Enrollment system and a Wisconsin Student Number Locator System. But tracking the students is only one problem; another is tracking teachers.

“The act requires schools hire highly qualified teachers,” Whitcomb said. “But the teacher quality data in the act is not the same as the state licensing criteria. The two sets of data do not line up, so we have to collect new data.”

Another un-funded state IT mandate is the Help America Vote Act, which Bush signed into law after the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election. The act requires the state to maintain a centralized voter registration list, in coordination with vital records and other data to prevent fraud. According to summit presenter Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the state election board, the requirements of the act are problematic in particular for Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is one of seven states that has on-site registration,” Kennedy said. “Implementing this to a centralized list will be quite a challenge.”

Charles Rathmann is a freelance writer and contributor to Wisconsin Technology Network.

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