Giuliani stresses importance of tech in government

Leveraging technology is key to reaching goals and preparing for unexpected events in government as well as in business, the former mayor of New York told a packed audience at the E-Gov 2002 conference on Wednesday morning.

Recounting how he employed technology to make governing New York’s eight million residents more manageable, Rudolph Giuliani said that implementing computer programs to give the city’s departments better and faster access to information helped him achieve some primary goals, such as reducing crime.

“When I became mayor, New York was described as unmanageable. … That became an excuse for unaccountability,” Giuliani said.

Frustrated by getting crime statistics on an annual basis that were already a half-year old, when it was too late to react, Giuliani instituted a program where police precincts would report crime figures on a daily basis. That allowed police departments to quickly react to trends, such as heightened crime in a certain part of the city during late afternoons, he said. That in turn made the police more accountable for reacting, and crime was reduced by 65 percent while Giuliani was in office, he said.

Getting key crime figures on a daily basis “would not have been possible without technology,” he said. Management and philosophical changes were also required to change the system, Giuliani said.

The former mayor also relied on technology to develop the city’s emergency management system and to run practice drills of how the police, fire, and other emergency responders would react to different situations.

“We were using technology to try to play games of what might happen, to have plans and programs in place,” he said. “That gives us a tremendous advantage.” For example, in the hours following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center twin towers, the city’s response teams were able to rely on procedures hammered out during drills to coordinate efforts.

Even on a smaller scale, using technology to help run government organizations — often referred to as e-gov initiatives — can go a long way to improve both how systems work and people’s perception of government efficiency, Giuliani continued.

“E-gov can go a very long way to change (perceptions of inefficient government); people should have a confident relationship with government,” he said. “E-gov makes government more transparent and usable, and it keeps us on our toes. Run (government) like a business — technology and e-gov gives you the opportunity to do that.”

Asked what he thought of proposals to institute a national ID program that would identify citizens and link their personal information to government databases, Giuliani answered the country should work toward such a system. “We need the ability to properly identify people that’s more effective than systems we currently have,” he said. Addressing criticism that such an ID program would violate residents’ civil rights, he added that such a system would not be “an erosion in any way of any sort of fundamental freedom.”