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City making more services available on the Internet

"Federal Way is hitting the accelerator in bringing government services to the information superhighway. Someday, people who want to sign up for parks and recreation activities, and apply for business licenses and city permits might be able to with a few keystrokes rather than a trip to City Hall, says Iwen Wang, Management Services director. As the city develops its online programs, it's seeking feeback from residents through an Internet survey on the city's Website. Bringing such services on-line could have advantages that extend beyond saving trips, Wang said. Updating for permits, which sometimes is done over the phone or off of voicemail, would become more accurate, she predicted. And reducing the need for manual data entry means the city staff could be deployed more effectively, she said. Electronic processing is definitely much more cost effective than manually processing, she added. Though using on-line services for customer convenience is nothing new to businesses, it's brand new to city governments. Federal Way is joining 19 other suburban cities in King County to plan for electronic government services. The group, called the E-GOV Alliance, is the first of its kind in the nation. Federal Way and King County need to keep up with neighboring jurisdictions because if they don't they'll be at an economic disadvantage in terms of attracting new industry, Wang said. We want to be competitive and more on the leading edge, she said, noting that the city hopes to attract more businesses that use Class A office space as Federal Way's new downtown is developed. Toni Cramer, chief information officer for Bellevue, another city that joined the alliance, agrees with the need to be competitive and also emphasized the need for cooperation in developing new city programs. In the cyberworld, jurisdictional boundaries should take a back seat to convenience. There is no reason why local governments can't provide on-line city services in a coordinated way, Cramer said. The cities have not done a cost analysis to pin down the economic benefits, Wang said. But we all know the benefit is there, she said. ...I think we are on to something great. The city does not have hard numbers on how many people have access to the Internet in Federal Way, either, but city leaders estimate that 60 percent of households have PCs with access, she said. Though she acknowledges a significant number of people won't be able to use the service, she said there could be ways to tackle that divide once the service is established. Those could include computer access at libraries or computer kiosks at various locations. Though each city in the alliance is tailoring its e-government services to local residents, member cities are exploring joint purchasing and sharing of resources to accelerate government service provision on the web. The project is the brainchild of Rich Conrad, city manager of Mercer Island. His overall vision is reducing the travel and transaction time involved in conducting the most common types of business. Improving service and reducing trips are goals we all share, Conrad said. The cities have contracted with Innovation Groups, a national non-profit organization, to assist the cities in the planning process. Other member cities include Auburn, Bothell, Burien, Clyde Hill, Des Moines, Issaquah, Kenmore, Kent, Kirkland, Medina, Mercer Island, Newcastle, Redmond, Renton, SeaTac, Shoreline, Tukwila and Woodinville. Have a say To participate in a survey of city services residents would like to see offered on the Internet, go to www.cityoffederalway.com and click on Federal Way Egov Services Survey. "

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