Starting a business takes know-how, energy, lots of gumption and no small measure of patience to deal with many layers of state, local and federal government bureaucracy.
Now, the federal government is developing a plan to use the Internet to simplify the navigation of governments and their many requirements for small businesses.
The goal of the project — one of the federal governments few cross-agency e-government efforts — is to build a national business registry portal linking federal, state and local Web sites and services. From one site, officials say, budding business owners should be able to fill out all of the government forms and find all of the information they need.
"It steps people through the process: the type of business they are starting, the various requirements the business demands — whether its licenses, permits or employer identification numbers," says Barry West, agency expert for information assurance of the General Services Administration, the agency that conducts most of the purchasing for the federal government. "Right now, there is no one-stop shop for creating a business. A citizen has to go to several places. Theres a lot of paperwork, and it could take a long time. This would be quick."
The project was started with $100,000 in seed money donated by the federal Chief Information Officers Council, a group of federal CIOs and other IT staffers that holds regular meetings and helps sway federal IT policy.
The project is still in the planning stages. It has been tentatively dubbed "Registry.gov," though officials have not yet decided what the URL for the Web site will be. West says that the portal should be up by June 2002, located and administered within an appropriate federal agency, such as the Small Business Administration.
According to West, only five state governments — Illinois, North Carolina, South Carolina, New Jersey and Washington — are involved with the project so far, but eventually all 50 states should be taking part.
While the promise of "e-gov" relies largely on government agencies working together, such interagency cooperation within the federal government is rare. Agencies receive their budgets through individual congressional committees, and the budgets typically do not involve monies dedicated to projects spread across the entire government.
Whats needed is a separate pool of money that can be used to pay for interagency projects. President George W. Bush has promised federal funds to Web-enable government services, putting aside $20 million in his budget for e-gov projects. Congress has not yet ratified the presidents budget.
In any case, the business registry portal is a great example of what governments should be doing with the Web, says Joiwind Ronen, director of The Council for Excellence in Governments Intergovernmental Technology Leadership Consortium.
"Instead of each agency putting up its own portal, theyre actually pausing and rethinking their business processes and saying, On the back end, we need to coordinate better, so on the front face with the citizens, they have only one entry point," Ronen says.