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_____________________[PRO] japanese raise costs of "digital state" project

Clueless officials raising costs of bloated "digital state" project

Asahi Shimbun; Oct 31, 2002

The Asahi Shimbun Bureaucrats' vision of a lightweight ``electronic government'' that can provide all services online is being weighed down by unnecessary costs from computer makers who are dictating network construction, officials said Tuesday

With few systems experts of their own, state ministries and agencies laying down the infrastructure of the project are finding themselves at the whim of computer makers' estimates

Consequently, the government has racked up larger bills than anticipated as it brings parts of the system online, according to the officials

To even the playing field, they said, the government plans to deploy a platoon of experts in the new fiscal year, starting April, in hopes of cutting the budget of the massive project by 10 to 50 percent

The yearly price tag now stands at close to 1 trillion yen, according to the officials

The goal of the electronic government project, they said, is to store as many official documents as possible in digital form and post them on public Web sites

Bureaucrats hope this will enable individuals to download various documents from the Internet, request archived data by e-mail and perform official transactions online

Tokyo is also apparently considering an online auction to conduct bidding on public-works projects

The digital government project was spawned in January 2001 by an information technology task force set up by Yoshiro Mori, then prime minister

The government spent 926.9 billion yen in fiscal 2001 on the project and 954 billion yen in fiscal 2002

Critics now say ministries and agencies leading the way have been too reliant on the expertise of computer firms

Government staff, for example, are required to draw up designs for a system before opening it to bidding, according to the officials

In practice, however, clueless bureaucrats are letting engineers working for the computer giants do all the work, officials said

Once inside, computer makers that did the design work are, not surprisingly, using their leverage to win bids to build the systems

''Such cases are rampant,'' said one official, who asked not to be identified. ``These government officials are in reality the yes men of the computer makers.'' In many biddings, the final price offered by computer companies is relatively cheap

Later in the project, however, winning contractors are reaping huge profits by developing software and other programs for state systems they themselves designed

Another cost inefficiency is overlapping systems among ministries and agencies

Government organs are given free rein and their own budget to develop systems, according to the officials

With scant coordination among offices, ministries and agencies are introducing systems that serve often identical functions

Better cooperation in network development will allow the government to tighten its budget dramatically, the officials saidю
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