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Mississippi.gov: Magnolia State’s virtual front door — to everything

Driver’s license expired? Property taxes due? Click and it’s done.

To the relief of those who dread driving down to government offices and waiting in line, the State of Mississippi has spent the last three years building a comprehensive Web site that is full of forms, applications, phone numbers and just about anything else relating to government. Visitors to the site can renew a fishing or boating license, order a copy of a birth certificate, download state tax forms and find out how their favorite restaurant scored with the state Department of Health. Some of the links are even non-government, such as the link to Baptist Health Systems’ adult day care or the Delta Blues Museum.

When you visit www.mississippi.gov, you won’t find a boring Web site limited to long lists of state departments. What you will find is a colorful, easy-to-navigate site that takes the “government” out of government. On the left side of the home page are buttons like “Living in Mississippi,” “Working in Mississippi,” “Learning in Mississippi” and “Healthcare in Mississippi.” The site was specifically designed in this generalized nature so that someone seeking restaurant inspections, for example, does not have to know that they are available through the state Department of Health. When they click on “Living in Mississippi” they find a button for an online restaurant inspection search, and there are plenty of other ways to find it on the intricately-linked site.

Mississippi.gov was first offered in 2001 as an entryway into e-government. Craig Orgeron, enterprise architect with the state’s Information Technology Services (ITS), calls the Web site a “jumping off place” into hundreds of other government sites and many non-government sites.

“There is no wrong door,” said Orgeron, who helps maintain the Web site. “They can hit a home page they thought applied to them or hit a state agency listing and get to where they need to go. One of the primary things we were concerned with was making government accessible through channels, which eliminated the hierarchy of government. We wanted people to think of healthcare, education and getting access to government without thinking of departments.”

Mississippi was one of first states to splash the “How Do I…” lists located prominently in the top right corner of the pages. ITS constantly culls the lists according to the hot issues of the day and from frequently asked questions. The current list includes “How do I stop telemarketing calls?” and “How do I find out about assistance programs for high drug costs?” — a hot topic right now with cuts in Medicaid and Medicare. One of the most popular is “How do I get a Mississippi driver’s license?” About 2,000 people a month use the online service to renew their licenses, saving them a trip to their local highway offices. The service is designed for routine renewals, so not everyone can use it, but many people can.

Professional licenses are another convenience provided by the Web site. One of the original groups to offer this was the Mississippi State Board of Architecture and the Landscape Architecture Advisory Committee. The newest group to benefit is physicians, osteopaths and podiatrists who were able to renew their licenses online beginning this year.

The Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure sent out a notice about the service, and 55% of renewing physicians took them up on the offer when they renewed for 2004-2005. In addition to convenience, they got a break on the price — $150 online compared to $175 for a mail-in application.

“It was cheaper for them to renew online because it’s cheaper for us,” said Rhonda Freeman, division director for the state board. “It saves on data entry, personnel opening the mail and returns if they don’t fill the application out correctly.”

Nurses will soon be able to renew online, and ITS is discussing online licensing renewal with the Board of Accountancy.

When e-government began to evolve in the late 1990s, the idea was to get something — anything — out there on the Internet, said Orgeron. Over the years, government Web sites have been fine tuned to become powerful tools for state agencies. By putting everyday services online, or “automating the mundane,” as ITS calls it, government can provide much better customer service, much more efficient service and much more timely service, said Orgeron.

One clear example came this spring and summer with students wanting to know the status of their financial aid applications. The Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning’s (IHL) office of student financial aid developed an online service so university students could check the status of their financial aid packets — which they did by the thousands. ITS reports that from mid-July to mid-August alone, 5,300 students checked their status online. Instead of being bogged down with thousands of phone calls from curious students, the small IHL staff could handle the students who really needed help.

Mississippi.gov was created as part of Mississippi’s Enterprise E-Government Project and was funded by a one-time expenditure by ITS as authorized by the Mississippi Legislature.

The makings of Mississippi.gov started in the late 1990s when ITS formed a grassroots e-government task force involving many agencies to plan the Web site. In 2000, former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove signed an executive order forming the e-government commission which led to the formation of the Web site. Mississippi.gov went live in November 2001. It is the state’s second generation online portal.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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