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Abstract -- The World Wide Web and Its Implications in a Democratic Society Policy Track
P6: Government Services

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The World Wide Web and Its Implications in a Democratic Society

Doyle, Pattie ( pidoyle@tdc.redstone.army.mil)
Ross, Angela S. ( aross@tdc.redstone.army.mil)
Edwards, Rita R. ( redwards@tdc.redstone.army.mil)


The advances provided by the World Wide Web, the Web, technology allow the average citizen to play a more direct role in a government established for the people. Too often in today's working bureaucracy, mistakes are made due to the inability to access and use pertinent information. Further, because of the inability to share results and "lessons learned", the same process of trial and error is repeated by different organizations. These inadequacies mean one thing: wasted tax payers' money. By accessing the power of the Web and its browsers, the federal government will strengthen the drive towards developing the National Information Infrastructure. Although the power of the Internet is growing in intensity, it is vital to understand that the full implications of the Net and its associated tool, the Web, are still to be discovered. This paper examines both current uses of the Internet and the Web and their potentials.

Human beings have a tendency to collect vast amounts of knowledge. As hardware advances have allowed the storage of massive amounts of information into smaller spaces, the accessibility of the accrued data has become a focal point. Knowledge is power, but only if used. In this Information Age, individuals and organizations are realizing the importance of the dissemination of information to the masses. In the United States, the federal government is making efforts to address this issue. Government agencies and the private sector are combining forces to embrace and enhance an existing information highway. However, the sheer volumes of data can overwhelm the average person, much like using a nuclear bomb to kill a fly on the wall. What is needed is a medium to serve as a pipeline to the data. The Web is such a medium. The hypermedia technology which is embedded into the Web provides non-linear access to the stored data. The easy to use Web browsers such as Mosaic and Netscape which take advantage of hypertext, have made the Internet accessible by more people, providing an avenue through which the dream of government re-invention can become a reality.

An example of the influence of the Web in a federal agency is its use by the Technology Development Laboratory (TDL), located in Huntsville, Alabama. TDL falls under the guidance of the United States Army Missile Command (MICOM) Corporate Information Center (CIC). The CIC has embraced the National Performance Review's guidelines for re-inventing government and has been designated a National Reinvention Laboratory. The TDL's use of the Web and its technology is providing opportunities for savings. The TDL is aggressively enacting procedures and programs to place itself on the crest of the government re-invention wave.

For example, the Web has provided the ability to develop on-line training applications. Course participants are able to register via Web forms, and their personal data and test responses are stored in a relational database. They may progress through the training manual at their leisure. This ability for participants to choose an appropriate time for their training ensures more efficient time management.

A second example is the TDL's use of the Web to develop an interactive help desk for its customers. On-line User's Manuals which interactively step through the application with the user are placed here. In the future, customers will also be able to leave trouble reports and questions they may have about an application. The messages will be routed via an e-mail utility to the relevant staff member.

The above described projects are small-scale examples of the Web's potential influence. They demonstrate methods which can be expanded and incorporated into procedures and programs throughout the government to make it more efficient and economical. As Internet technology improves and becomes more affordable, more people will be accessing and benefiting from the information infrastructure, laying the foundation for its users to remain competitive in a highly contested market place.