From background checks on truck drivers to renewing hunting licenses in Mississippi, eGovernment portals are taking consumers directly to government services through a “self-pay” fee system without either state or federal appropriations or expenditures.
For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has instituted a background check system that bypasses bureaucracy and delivers information directly to trucking companies.
For a fee of $10 per request or $100 a year (discounted for small companies), trucking companies have nearly instant access to driving records of potential hires. No federal appropriation was required to set up this service; and it doesn’t come out of the agencies’ budgets, but for a small start-up cost. The service is paid for entirely by the access fee.
“The ‘no-cost’ contract has created a ‘win-win’ public-private partnership,” FMCSA said in a prepared response to questions from Breaking Gov. “For the FMCSA, the agency was able to fulfill a statutory mandate with minimal impact on agency resources. For the trucking industry, PSP allows them to instantly access driver safety records via a secure online portal.”
Currently, only two federal agencies, the FMCSA and the Federal Election Commission, use such a pass-through process. But The FMCSA suggests that other entities could benefit from a similar process.
According to a nationwide, June 2012 study conducted by NIC Inc., a private company that provides e-government services, 67 percent of those surveyed said they would rather pay a $1 to $5 fee to use a Web-based government service than stand in line at a government agency office.
Under the Patriot Act, passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 1991, attacks, millions of workers in the transportation industry alone must pass background checks. Trucking is just one of those industries, which also include aviation, maritime and ground transportation.
“This “no-cost” contract has allowed the FMCSA to provide the trucking industry with quick and secure electronic access to records without any appropriated funds,” the agency said in an email. “NIC (the company that runs the system) has automated a formerly paper process that was only available through a formal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, which is a costly and time-consuming process.”
Both the FMCSA and the state of Mississippi, which automated its hunting license application process (and many other services) in the same way using the same company, put its contracts out for competitive bid. They wanted to see the proposals but weren’t actually paying the firms, according to Craig Orgeron, executive director of IT services for the state of Mississippi.
Orgeron said the partnership allows the state to contract out for the expertise needed to run the system, rather than pay for and staff up an entire department in-house.
“We have seen their (the company’s) queue of work fill up unbelievably fast,” Orgeron said. “That tells me there is demand for payment-based applications on line.”
He also said the mobile applications for state services are growing quickly and there is “no way the state could keep up with that demand.”
Orgeron said the state has close oversight of the process, including a legislatively chartered governance board made up of representatives from seven or eight state agencies and officials “under the premise that this public-private partnership is completely transparent. Financials get reported; there’s no funny anything.”
Robert Knapp, chief operating officer of NIC, Inc., the company that handles the motor carriers service as well as the state of Mississippi’s, said the model could be used throughout the federal government for anything that requires a filing, a licensing or data mining.
“Agriculture has a tremendous number of filings, around pesticides, for example,” he said. “Homeland security has access to individual records. Any agency that has filing, searching or reporting mechanisms. Third parties need access to that data and this would provide a service to their constituents.”
Orgeron, too, suggested the model could work well at the federal level.
“I think could (translate); it would just take leadership ” he said. “In the background of our model is one standardized way to make online payments. That alone is huge. Any time you can push a lot of volume through a contractors solution you get a better rate. That should be applicable at all levels (of government).”