The recent budget stale mate (or impasse as the press like to call it) and the threat of a possible government shut down in the United States has thrown up some interesting questions about e-government.Over the last 15 years the United States government has undergone a transformation in the way it conducts day-to-day business; this transformation comes in the form of a heavy reliance on the Internet. It was no surprise that operators of federal government-related websites were hugely relieved to hear that the government would not shutdown causing the furlough of 800,000 federal employees. It would not just have been the 800,000 federal employees but hundreds of people who work for federal contractors, including those who operate websites for the government. Had the furlough occurred many of the websites that the US government relies on for day-to-day administration helping millions of Americans would have gone out of service. Services such as automated payments and visa processing for travel would have been affected. A possible furlough due to the budget stale mate could have lasted anything from a day to weeks, costing the American tax payer millions.
The Internet is a great labour saving device and from its beginnings always had obvious uses in reducing the amount of time we spend on government bureaucracy. The recent threat of a furlough highlights the weakness in these Web based systems. It is reported that websites for Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security would have been affected, as well as the electronic payment system for pretty much all of the defense contractors (ahhh – what a shame!). The more human beings concentrate administration in one system the more we can worry about someone switching the system off. There must be measures the government can take to keep the system alive in times of crisis.
The U.S. government does have a contingency plan for certain aspects of e-governance such as websites dedicated to national security and protection of life and property. The only other operation not to be affected would have been the IRS; if anybody wanted to file a tax return electronically then they would have been able to do so.
The last time the U.S. government shutdown was in 1996 and the reliance on Internet was completely minimal, today the reliance is huge. It is not just the U.S. administration that has moved to rely on e-governance but also many countries in Western Europe, India, Japan, and in most developed and developing nations.