TCS Daily

Jim Glassman interviews Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee

By James K. Glassman - September 4, 2000 12:00 AM

How do you use information technology to reduce the cost of government and allow citizens to become more productive? TCS host Jim Glassman recently spoke to Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who's pushing for an e-revolution in Arkansas government.

Glassman: Governor, what are you trying to achieve with the use of technology?

Gov. Huckabee: We really believe that the quickest way for Arkansas and other states in the South to move ahead economically is to use technology in the same way that paved roads brought us sort of the Industrial Age and gave us a capacity to compete. The paving of technology highways really gave us an opportunity to give people the lifestyle of the very hospitable South, the work ethic of the South, the friendly and favorable climate of the South, but at the same time letting them do what ordinarily and in previous generations would have to have taken place in the inner city or in the city of Manhattan or Chicago or Los Angeles. And we're very excited about the prospects that now a person can live on several acres of land overlooking a mountain or a lake and yet work anywhere in the world by way of technology.

Glassman: So, is one of your objectives to draw people from urban areas for the reasons that you just stated, that it's a wonderful place to live and there is no need to live in the congested city anymore?

Gov. Huckabee: Well, I think most people now look for quality of life as one of their primary considerations of what they do and where they live. And technology has really given us a whole new opportunity in terms of options of where we live as well as what we do. The cost of living here is remarkably less than it would be in many of the urban areas. The fact that it's much more community-oriented, there's less crime, there is more of a sense of old-fashioned neighborliness. People long for a place where their children can grow up and still play in the neighborhood and enjoy some fresh air and room to stretch their arms. I think it becomes very attractive because of technology to consider places like Arkansas.

Glassman: Let's talk about some specifics about what you are doing. I understand you intend to tie all of the state's computer systems together. How will the citizens benefit from that?

Gov. Huckabee: We're already in the midst of a $30 million project which essentially will tie every computer in the state networks together, so that we will simplify a lot of our government transactions. Rather than having numerous sequences of paperwork taking place, a single punch of a key will not only make an order of a purchase but it will determine whether it is within the budget. It will order the product, it will check its inventory, it will deduct it from the budget, it will transmit that information to the budget office so that it can be properly accounted for. You know, those are the kinds of things that we are doing at the state government.

We've also done a lot of things to make our whole approach more truly e-government. We believe that we can downsize state government by employing technology. We'd simplify the card tag system. Many of the tax forms can be completed on line. Public officials can enter all of their financial disclosure information online. People can look at that information online. We have literally dozens of ways - hunting and fishing licenses could be obtained online. And we eventually are moving to where anything that a person would ordinarily do in person with state government can be done electronically. And that's our goal, to do that within the next few years.

Glassman: You know a lot of people would say, "Whoa - I'm not so sure I want the government being more efficient. I mean, they'll write twice as many parking tickets and audit twice as many businesses." Do you worry about an unintended downside?

Gov. Huckabee: I think just the opposite. I think government would be less intrusive because people can access government when it is convenient for them rather than when it is convenient for the government. Rather than being open from 8:30 to 4:30 Monday through Friday, government will be 24-7, 365. And I think that for a person who really values privacy and values setting his or her own schedule, the ability to say, "I think I'll get my hunting license at midnight on Sunday night" is very attractive as opposed to saying, "Oh, my gosh, I only have thirty more minutes to hurry down before that government office closes to let that clerk look me in the eyeballs and make sure it's okay for me to get the license." So I think it's going to be frankly the kind of enterprise that will be very, very appreciated by people.

Glassman: You know, one of the other things that technology does is cut costs. Are you going to be able to save money as well as serve your public better?

Gov. Huckabee: Well, we're kind of betting the farm that we will. Arkansas went through fairly substantial government growth in the early 1970s. At that point, we increased taxes. Let me say, they did, I didn't do it. I want to be on record on that. But what happened was there was an explosion of the size of government in the early '70s. Well, that resulted in the hiring of lots of people who are right now hitting their 28- and 30-year retirement marks. So we're about to lose about 5000 upper level state employees over the next two to three to four years, so what we're trying to do is to rapidly position ourselves so that rather than having to replace all of these employees, we're going to be able to use technology to more efficiently operate so that we will replace a lot of the functions with technology -- and hopefully not have to incur the same level of personnel costs and to be able to do better by the personnel that we will actually be keeping.

Glassman: Do you have the kind of telecommunications infrastructure that makes the kinds of changes that you want to make possible?

Gov. Huckabee: I think a lot of people would be surprised to find out that Arkansas even by objective standards is way ahead of most states in terms of its infrastructure. We have an extraordinary amount of fiber optic cable available to us. Every single public school in the entire state of Arkansas is connected to a system that we call APSCAN, which is the Arkansas Public School Network, where every school district, every school, every classroom is wired, not only to the Internet, but wired so that budgeting, so that grades, all of that could be done and it is handled through a central computer system. So, there are a lot of things that we already do and are doing that I think, you know, certainly put us in a position to build upon it.

Our primary objective in the next legislative session is to capitalize on what we are doing now, and that's a statewide assessment of all of our technology assets - everything from two-way radio systems to pagers and cellular phones. And what we've already discovered is the state is by far the largest customer of technology in the state. We're going to use our buying power to be able to go to the marketplace and to get the top quality for the best price. And in turn, the investment that we're going to be making in technology is going to give private sector technology companies a foothold so that through the money that they will make off of us being a customer, they will be able to offer heretofore unprecedented services to their private customers.

Glassman: Are all the states doing the same kind of thing that you're doing?

Gov. Huckabee: Well, I'm sure that many of them are, and I don't know to what extent. I do know that a lot of states are beginning to seriously recognize that whether they like it or not a growing number of their people are hooked up. We just did a survey, in fact, for our state. We commissioned a research project and surprisingly found that over 40 percent of Arkansans use the Internet at least once a week. And frankly that surprised me considering that we are mostly rural.

And so, what I'm discovering is in a rural state like Arkansas, the Internet becomes even more important because it is the access to the rest of the world. And a person can live in the most remote part of the state, miles from another human being and yet be as in touch as that person who lives in a noisy, high-rise, where one can never hear the sounds of birds or crickets for the sounds of sirens and traffic.

Glassman: Well, we're just about out of time, but I can't let you off the phone without asking you, as a Governor of Arkansas, about our President. Do you think Bill Clinton will be disbarred in Arkansas?

Gov. Huckabee: I think there's a good chance of it because I believe there is a sense in which the people who are having to make that decision almost feel that if they do not, then it is going to be very difficult for them to explain to the rest of the world why there is a double standard of justice. And I think that's what is going to be pressing upon them, and their decision is not just the fact that there are serious issues to deal with but one of the bigger issues is, what does it say about our justice system if there is a different level of justice for those with a position of power as against those who don't have it. And that's going to be very telling and I think those who make those decisions are very cognizant of that.

Glassman: Now, I detect from the way you said that that if you were making the decision yourself that that's the way that you would go also.

Gov. Huckabee: Well, I'm not a lawyer. And let me just say, thank God for that.

Glassman: Right.

Gov. Huckabee: But not being one, I wouldn't even begin to assume to know how that should be adjudicated. I don't know, if you will, the rules of engagement in terms of the details of the legal case. So, the honorable thing I think for Bill Clinton would be to voluntary say, I don't ever intend to practice law in Arkansas, here's the license, just to avoid any controversy. That's what I think a lot of us don't understand is why he doesn't not only prevent the potential embarrassment to himself but more importantly why he doesn't prevent the very sticky situation he's going to put some of his friends in the state in.

Glassman: Are you planning to attend the opening of the Clinton Library?

Gov. Huckabee: I'm sure I'll be there if and when it is built.

Glassman: Here's the final question. What do you hope your own legacy will be regarding technology in Arkansas?

Gov. Huckabee: That even the poorest, most dislocated Arkansan was able to see a significant improvement in quality of life, be it education, delivery of health care, of information as a result of the technology initiative we proposed.

Glassman: Well, thank you very much, Governor Huckabee.

Gov. Huckabee: It's a pleasure talking with you.

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