California's statewide Child Support Automated System shows that it's possible to replace outdated, disparate computer systems with a modern, Web-based system that works better at lower cost. A milestone was reached in November when the last of California's 58 counties moved over to the new system, letting case workers across the state view and update 1.7 million cases. The system, which features an Apache Web Server back-end and Internet Explorer front end, supplants more than a half-dozen older systems. Data quality and privacy have improved and cross-jurisdictional case processing is more efficient.
Electronic medical records may be the future of healthcare, but it will take system interoperability to get us there. The Federal Health Architecture worked with federal agencies to develop open source software, called Connect, that serves as a gateway for exchanging health data among government agencies and the private sector. Connect functions as an "on ramp" to the Nationwide Health Information Network, the government's conduit for e-records sharing. Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration became the first federal agency to use Connect to tie in to NIHN. Likewise, the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are using Connect to link their own extensive e-health systems with outside healthcare and benefits providers.
The Small Business Administration learned some hard lessons from Hurricane Katrina about the need to be responsive. The SBA's Office of Disaster Assistance has developed a Web-based electronic loan application intended to help displaced citizens in the event of a disaster. When a user goes to the SBA's e-loan site, he or she creates a user name and provides a home, business, or, as is often the case in a disaster zone, cell phone number. A pass code is then sent via text or voice message to the number provided. Two-factor authentication and an "identity proofing" component add security to the application, including validating user-provided data against credit bureau data. The system, designed to support up to 5,000 loan applications per hour, was used to accept 40,000 applications during the 2008 hurricane season.
Providing environmental data to the public in an easy-to-understand format has long been a challenge for the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA's new My Environment Web site, launched on Earth Day 2009, serves as an information portal that combines data from a dozen of its own databases with data from other sources, giving users an environmental snapshot of their local communities. My Environment's search tool pulls together data on Superfund sites, facility compliance, emissions, violations, ozone forecasts, and more, and the site includes FAQs, scientific information, and links to other sources. My Environment is so comprehensive, in fact, that the EPA expects the site to provide information that might otherwise be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Like so many other government agencies, Hennepin County's Human Services and Public Health Department was buckling under a crush of paperwork. The Minnesota agency's 2,800 employees handle 20 million pages of case file documents annually. To better manage that load, the county has implemented a browser-based document management system that replaces paper with digitized content, including scanned images and audio and video clips. Incoming mail is scanned and delivered electronically, while client correspondence takes place through electronic forms. The agency created a shared master index to facilitate client identity management and for cases that involve multiple programs. Case workers use tablet PCs and wireless networking to file forms remotely. The document management system, deployed first by the county's Child Support Services division, is to be rolled out to all other areas of the county department, including business partners and individual clients.