One-stop government in France
|Jean Paul Baquiast||
This document has been written on request of Bremen University, in charge of a study about One-stop Government in Europe. Please consider it as University's property. Do not re-use or duplicate it without it's authorization. For more details, see http://www.fgtk.informatik.uni-bremen.de/cost/onestopgover.html
Summary 1. One-Stop-Government concepts in French public administration
2. Case Studies
3. Best Practices
4. Assessment of one-stop-government in France
1. One-Stop-Government concepts in French public administration reform
In order to understand the level of development of one-stop-government projects in France, a brief introduction to the structure of public administration in this country is necessary. For the purposes of the report, a simplified summary is sufficient. Two different levels of public administration can be distinguished: state and local government. State government is organized at two levels : national (central ministries and dependances) and territorial (regional and departemental offices under the authority of central ministries). At the same time, important non-state administrations, with the statute of " Etablissement public " or public agencies, are in charge of social security, employment, health. These organisms too are in charge of regional and local offices.
Local government is quite different. As generally in Europe, local government is politically independant from national state, since they depend of elected authorities. France was generally considered as a highly centralised country. It is still true, despite a strong trend of decentralisation initiated in the 1980, and reinforced with the development of information society.
Under the authority of Prime minister and ministers, state administration is at government's disposal (art 20 of French Constitution). Government is in charge of applying the international treaties and the laws voted by the Parliament. Government is empowered by the Constitution of an important regulatory power, in various domains especially when law is not precise enough. In our field of administrative procedures, legal dispositions from the Parliament are often required, for instance when problems of privacy or proof are raised. But complementary regulations are always required, for practical purposes, in order to apply in many different cases.
The number of ministries is fixed by the Prime minister. There is an effort to-day not to exceed 40, which is often considered as too many. But, in France as everywhere, some ministries are more important than others, especially in the domain of relations with the public. We shall have to focus our attention here on ministry of finances (economy, finance and industry to-day), ministry of solidarity (social security, health, labour, employment), ministry of interior (administrative qualification of citizens, police) and ministry of justice.
Each minister is generally responsible of the internal management of his administration, including relations with persons or enterprises related to his domain of competences. Prime minister, when day-to-day decisions or regulations are involved, has no real coordination power. No minister eiher, whatever is his importance, can except to be easily accepted as a coordinator. This point is very important to consider for one-stop government policies. When you want to apply a general scheme of simplification, difficult negociations between administrations are generally necessary, since there is no arbitration power available at governmental level. When you admit in addition that ministerial organisations and traditions are often very different, you can understand the difficulty of such policies.
Traditionnaly in France, the central administration in each ministry (mainly located in Paris), is in charge of every important decisions. Many people are working there, especially in the higher grades. This is a consequence of the traditionnal, but excessive, centralisation of french public administration. Efforts are made since the eighties to de-concentrate state responsabilities and offices towards regions and departments, by increasing the competences of territorial bureaus, but resistances from top-management in Paris are still important.
In departments and regions, each ministry is represented by a director or head of services ("directeur départemental" or "directeur régional"), in charge of the technical and administrative units of the ministry in the circonscription. There are generally more than 20 of them in each department. These directors are locally under the authority of the "préfet", "préfet de département" or "préfet de région". In this way, prefects are in the same time territorial representative of the minister of interior, and territorial representative of the government, with some sort of hierarchic power on their colleagues, in every domain where the direct hierarchical line between directors and their respective ministers is not in question.
NB: in the french administrative terminology, de-concentration is different of de-centralisation. The first is realised inside state responsabilities, from central to local levels, the second intend to transfer responsabilities from state to local government. Both are considered as vital issues to-day.
Local government include various territorial authorities which are administered by universal suffrage elected councils (art 72.2 of Constitution). Three categories existed in 1958, cities (communes), departments (counties) and overseas territories. The decentralisation law of 02/03/82 has created new local authorities, of which the region. France to-day is divided in 26 regions, 100 departments and 37.000 cities. This is generally considered as too much, at least from the point of view of administrative simplification, since each of these entities is entitled to decide alone of how to manage its own local affairs and practical relations with citizens, especially in the domain of new technologies.
Each level of local authorities has its own group of competences, defined by law (07/01/83 and 22/07/83). This applies to local police, building and zoning, schools, hospitals, welfare, public utilities, roads, transports and so on. Generally, these competences are shared between levels and with local representatives of State ministries. This is again a reason why administrative simplification is difficult. It is practically impossible to decide and implement new administrative solutions at a local level, since the approval of all others levels is generally required, and conformity to a national model generally considered as mandatory.
If you observe moreover that each simplification may provoke conflicts between national or local interests and pressure groups, especially when new technologies are involved, you understand why modernisation is so difficult and long a job.
The last group of managerial and administrative authorities to encompass in our approach of one stop government is made of national or local "établissements publics" or agencies having their own autonomy in their domain of competences, under the tutorship of central or local government representatives. The most important to look at here are social security organisms (including employment and hospitals). They produce many regulations and procedures which are generally included by enterprises and citizens in the global amount of "red tape" which have to be reduced or simplified.
The result of this architecture is that it is practically impossible to identify places or offices where all or almost all direct contacts between citizens and administrations may be centralised. For most practical purposes, ie civil registration, car registration, personal records, welfare matters, building permits, and business regulations, you can expect sometimes to find commun administrative buildings in or around the offices of the Prefect (called Prefecture), in the chief-town of the circonscription. Administrative cities have been sometimes built in order to regroup these services, but they are not very popular, and dispersion of offices remains a general rule, provoking a lot of difficulties, as well in urban centers as in rural areas.
1.1 One-Stop-Government in public administration reform
One-Stop-Government has not been a major issue with the french government and its public administration reform strategies. This is true both for the conservative coalition, which ruled France until 1998, and the socialist-communist-green coalition, which has ruled since then. However, the present government has initiated an ambitious policy in order to promote the passage of the nation towards the global information society. A Governmental Programme for this issue has been decided, including the modernisation of administration with information technologies. Goals have been fixed in order to promote, as everywhere in Europe, administration on-line. But after two years, we have to observe that new practices have been scarce and scattered. So it will be necessary for the immediate future to revive and boost a more ambitious policy enhancing teleprocedures and one-stop-government.
In many modern states, for instance USA and Sweden, teleprocedures between administrations and enterprises (ie use of telecommunications for transmitting administrative documents and required datas) have been strongly encouraged. This was a consequence of the development of EDI in the private sector, and of the generalisation of TCP/IP protocols, more easy to manage than the previous X400. Even in so said liberal countries, as in the USA, federal government took energic decisions to oblige administrations to implement intranet and internet solutions when exchanging datas with private sector.
Public administration in France was accustomed to use informatics for all important applications, but this was realised in the spirit of main-framers, which favour centralised exchanges and are afraid of intercommunication between not clearly identified partners. The protection of privacy has been organized by a rather severe law Informatics and Liberty voted in 1978, which practically prohibits, especially in the public sector, interconnexion of files through common identification datas. So the idea of aggregating distinct administrative procedures was for a long time considered as a somewhat liberty-killer attempt.
Moreover, as everybody recognizes it now in France, in the domain of teleinformatics, teleprocedures, telework and similar applications now performed through Internet network, users were delayed because of the the existence of Minitel. Minitel was sufficiently performant for minor teleapplications, and many people hoped that it could be upgraded for more ambitious uses. So they argued too long on the theme " Minitel or Internet ", instead of investing the new possibilities offered by the explosion of Internet.
Another phenomenon which to-day appears to have increased the reluctance to adopt Internet was the development of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) in industry, and the idea that it was sufficient for an efficient communication to adopt EDI standards in the domain of public administration, and to use X400 for interchanging the messages . In fact, the standardization process of UN.Edifact (international) messages in this domain turned out to be excessively long and difficult, and nobody really volunteered to invest in EDI procedures, at least in the administrative sphere. In 1997 nevertheless, the Prime minister decided that public administrations were obliged to accept EDI messages. But this decision did not appear as sufficient to promote teleprocedures through X400 and EDI. Paper-documents and disketts remained mainly in use.
In the same time, many people underestimated the future of Internet. This technology was considered as unsecure, not compatible with existing investments and, let us admit, a tool for american commercial penetration. So, before 1996-97, it was irrelevant to propose experimenting Internet in the civil service. At the end of this period however, the state secretary for telecommunications insisted that ministries do implement web sites, but not with great success.
As far as one-stop-government is concerned, the topic was since a long time considered as an estimable target for simplifying administrative procedures. But it was understood mainly as regrouping several paper-documents in one or more, which supposed long and difficult negociations between administrations. Not only was it necessary to overpass administrative reluctance to cooperate, but it was often technically very difficult to achieve, because apparently identic legal concepts have generally different meanings depending of their domain of application. Regrouping documents in this case may induce complexity more than simplification.
Nevertheless, each successive government used to claim that it was anxious to reduce the number of formalities, and the social costs which follow. It has never been easy to estimate how many are these formalities, and how many documents are exchanged between administrations and citizens or enterprises. The M.P. Martin Lalande report (1997) about information society requirements for France estimates that about 50 millions of forms are filled each year by SMEs in fiscal and social domains. More generally, more than 1400 forms have been listed, for a global cost of about 200 à 555 millions of euro. So, the politically correct watchword is : simplify. But practically, each term of parliamentary office produces new regulations. Many of those have their origin in political campaigns from economic or social lobbies, supported by politicians without regards for the administrative cost.
The most significant exemple of pre-internet one-stop government effort in France was the so-called programme of " Centres de formalités des entreprises " or CFE. The idea was, and still is, to gather in a same office (mainly the Chambers of Commerce) the different formalities which are requested for creating an entreprise, or modifying an element of its statute. Approximatively 20 different administrations and agencies are competent and must be informed, by specific documents and datas, in this process. So, in the beginning of the 1980s , an interministerial committe was installed under the authority of a member of Prime minister cabinet, in order to simplify the whole lot. Unfortunately, resistances were so important that the expected " Liasse " or bundle CFE was produced only ten years after, 2 or 3 documents replacing the previous 20. It is sad to notice that some of the more severe resistances came, not of administrations, but of representatives of professions supposed to help entreprises in the maquis of procedures. They were probably afraid to loose some clients because of an excessive simplification. In the mid-1990, it was decided to computerize the Liasse CFE and to produce an EDI message, supposed to be transmitted between the CFE center and the target administrations. But, still to-day, paper remains the main solution for transmitting the files. Some experts proposed recently to use Internet protocols and messaging in the totality of the procedure, from the entreprise to the competent administrations, with the realisation of a simplified package which could really facilitate administrative requirements when creating entreprises in France, specifically SME. But nothing of the sort has not yet been decided.
As noted above, the goverment elected in June 1997 decided to make France enter definitively into the information society. A vast programme , PAGSI, was proposed in 1998. PAGSI means Governmental Programme for Information Society. It is supposed to adress all actors in all domains : mainly culture, education, commerce, edition, health and public administration. No specific funding was allocated, but a lot of more or less important measures intending to promote innovation and investment in various sectors were decided. Many people were requested for advice and reporting. In the public service, ministers and heads of agencies were asked to plan their own progression to information society. Contrary to french tradition, the programme was clearly meant as proceeding bottom up and not top down, with the minimum of orders and authority from the top level. The basic information about PAGSI, phase 1 in 1998 and phase 2 in 1999, may be found on the dedicated web site of the Prime Minister : www.internet.gouv.fr
In fact, in french administration, which is traditionnaly centralised, compartmented, organized into hierarchies, the development of a new culture based on Internet is not easy. This culture being summarized as " do simple, begin now and grow fast (without waiting too long for hierarchical authorization) ", meet a lot of resistances or misunderstandings. Even to day, we can estimate than a majority of civil servants have not yet fully understand how to work better with Internet. This is particularly evident when relations with citizens are involved.
Even at the Prime minister level, the first measures which were decided, in order to promote Internet in administrations, do not appear to-day as having been really revolutionnary. It was decided that ministries had to open web sites, develop intranets, publish various forms and documents (including their call for tenders). Ministries were required to plan their future modernisation through ministerial programmes for information society. But the public has not really noticed, at least up to now, real changes in the management of their interests and affairs by the various administrations.
This is particularly evident in the domain of administrative procedures. These procedures have not been really simplified, they always require too much time and expertise. Even when informpation technologies are accepted or recommended, the complexity of the exchange is disheartening for SMEs. An example of this, as we have already observe, is that the idea of one-stop government is still to-day not really put into practice.
Surely, such difficulties are not specific of french administration. Rigidity of regulation, complexity of structures, lack of training are everywhere obstacles difficult to overpass. From another point of view, public administration is not, at least in many european countries, submitted to competition, as private firms are. So it is not surprising if it does not change as quickly as the private sector does, which is directly confronted with competitors through electronic commerce. But very soon now, especially when private sector will require more urgently than to-day to have the advantage of modernised administrative procedures, public administration will have to re-invent (as they say in the US) their methods and practices, in order to remain tolerably accepted.
1.2 One-Stop-Government in public administration literature
In France, public administration scholars are not enough compelled to study organisations, methods and management problems. One can observe some change to-day in the courses, even in the Ecole Nationale d'Administration, famous for not giving any sort of practical training to the students. But we are far from having enough academic research and publications for producing international or even national references. The situation is not better in universities. Searchers who are interested in management prefer specializing in business, finance or firm management. They practically ignore public administration. On the other hand, national or even local governments are not in the habit of having universities working for them, on theoretical basis and, even more so, pilot application projects. They prefer eventually contracting with private companies or consultants, without generally publishing the results of the contracts, supposed to be proprietary..
The available literature for the theme of IT and Internet in public administration can be found in parliamentary or administrative reports. One of those (see bibliography), from Rémy Marchand, 1996, is specifically dedidated to what is called by the author the virtual network between administrations, ie exchange of documents and datas through telecommunications networks and EDI. Other reports deal with Internet in general, but put the emphasis on public administration and its possible rôle as exemple for dissemination of Internet. However, few, if nothing is said specifically about one-stop government problematics.
Anyway, the problem of such reports is : what is their practical influence ? Experience demonstrates that the author of a report cannot expect, with the occasional exception, to provoke immediate reaction from the government. At best, his proposals may be efficient only on a relatively long term. Or, when Internet is at stake, long term is definitively too late..
2. Case Studies
We have warned that we cannot study cases of genuine one-stop government in France, since they do not exist up to now. It is however possible to select 3 categories of projects approaching the concept, at 3 distinct levels : national central administrations, national territorial administrations and local authorities.
2.1. Central administrations. National level. The Net-Entreprises project.
i) Project description
The objective of the project is to allow each enterprise to send standardized notifications through Internet, to all ministers and agencies in charge of social security. We shall not describe here the various forms and organisms interested by the project. Social legislation and structures are very complex in France, and it is practically impossible to simplify them, because of the political sensibility attached to such questions. Let us just say that 3 priority documents are targetted : DUCS (unified declaration for social contributions), DADS (annual declaration for employment data) and DUE (unique declaration for appointment or recruitment). Each of these 3 documents is the result of a long process of aggregation which began long before. The addressees are more than 10. We shall not try to give here their acronyms, which are not really interesting for the case study.
Minister of social affairs (Emploi et solidarité) and state secretary for industry want to federate all these organisms in a new public consortium (Groupement d'intérêt public), called GIP Net-Entreprises. This GIP will be in charge of managing a unified information system using standard Internet protocols, in order to facilitate the process to all partners. For each entreprise in charge of notifications, this will be a partial one-stop government, dedicated to the social domain, since declarations and transmissons will be standardized, simplified, less numerous and, if necessary, assisted by specific easy-to-use softwares and on-line training.
The project is at the confluence of 3 governmental policies : simplify formalities, develop Internet, assist SMEs, which are now considered as the best agents for job creation. The development of micro-informatics and Internet in SMEs is a good opportunity for modernizing the management ot this category of firms, and inducing them to adress the international market. On the same time, big social organisms are progressively redesigning and downsizing their traditionnal informatics and methods, using the possibilities offered by Internet. So it is possible to expect a convergent process for modernization, giving benefits to all partners.
The main objectives of the project are to offer in 2002 a complet set of notifications - using Internet - performant - available for all enterprises - available for all administrative procedures - optional (ie: it will remain possible to use classical procedures).
The principles of the project are as follows:
- produce client-oriented products. The products will have to be adapted to the requirements of enterprises, whatever their size and their category. They will have to be easy-to-install and to use, unexpensive, performing and, of course, strictly conformed to Internet standards. They will have to be "consolidated" in order to prevent redundance in the capture of informations. They will have to offer security to users (reconnoissance by addressees, authentification, security in transmisson, confidentiality, etc). A unique registering will have to be sufficient for all types of procedures etc.
- to be opened. Each category of declaring entreprises must be accepted, as well as each category of addressed social organisms.
- to be compatible with the modernization requirements of the social organisms. As these organisms are different in their statute and finalities, and very anxious not to be coordinated from outside, they will have to remain able to control each phase and development of the project. Their own culture will have to be respected. The new products will have to be based on existing know-hows and investments, offer a good profitability, propose progressive and long-term evolution, etc.
- to ensure a good communication and possibility of negociation between partners, using as often as possible Internet media for information and dialogue.
The target of the project for 2002 is to offer two categories of interfaces between entreprises and social organismes:
- one or several portals for users giving information, inscription, simulations.
- one or several multi-functions servers (interconnectivity platforms) able to receive 3 categories of declarations: traditional or electronic forms (pdf); automatic (one-way) and finally interactive.
As social security regulations and applications are very complex, it is not possible to expect full virtual interactive processes to be completed before 3 years. But, as in the Internet age, it is not good to ask partners in a project to wait for such a long time, it has been decided to realize an intermediary offer for march 2000. The idea of this offer is to prevent organisms to develop separate and incompatible solutions, by giving them possibility of experimenting common downgraded solutions immediately.
In this perspective, the first product will be a common portal giving legal informations, informations and formation on the project, simulations, etc. Partners will have too the possibility of register themselves, receive a password, etc.
The second product will be a server able to process the 3 major declarations which are in use to-day, already mentionned above: DUE, DADS, DUC. They represent about half of the future expected traffic.
The management of the project requires a lot of precautions, in order to conciliate the not necessary convergent strategies of actual or expected partners. A complex organigram has been designed, in the detail of which we shall not enter: Director Committee, at a stratgic level, pilot or management Committee, including experts from the ministry (Social Security directorate) , users Committee
From december 1999 to september 2000, the partnership between volunteer organisms will be formalised by the creation of a GIP (Groupement d'Intérêt Public) The total cost for each member to subscribe is expected to be FF 20 millions, or Euro 3.05 millions, or approximatively FF 4 millions each, or euro 0.6 million.
ii) Problem area
To-day, enterprises are obliged to send each year dozens of documents to about 20 administrations, without any commun solutions and methods. They use all sorts of technologies, from paper , diskets, and post office to EDI. When they use computers, it is from non standardised platforms and applications. So costs and nuisances are very important. On the other hand, administrations have to take in charge an important work when receiving, controlling and registering non standardized documents. So the idea of using common standards and value added network solutions shoud be accepted with great enthousiasm.
Unhappily, the awareness upon Internet and its possible benefits is not sufficient. Each actor is anxious not to invest too quickly in Internet technologies, fearing unsuspected costs and developments. Perspectives of cooperation are not easily accepted. Projects initiated by central government are supposed to hide later intrusion in fiscal or statistical data...so despite the best of their intentions, policies aiming to offer a virtual and common front-office for accessing administrations are not easy to " sell to customers ". Il is necessary to process through limited exemples, and very progressively, after long negociations. That is the reason why Net-Entreprises project was selected between others by PAGSI as the one having the best chances of being accepted, as social procedures relative to the management of human resources are often criticised as particularly heavy.
iii) One-Stop-Government root
The Net-entreprises project is obvously not a perfect exemple of one-stop government as understood in this book. The field is limited to virtual relations between enterprises and social administrations. Worst, the project has not been to-day really implemented. Products and procedures are still to develop and experiment, even if 3 main social declarations DUE, DADS and DUC have already been redesigned as paper-documents and edifact messages.
It may nevertheless be considered as an interesting prototype, because it is, for the first time, at least in France, fully based on Internet. The assumptions of the project are that each entreprise is or will be soon on the web, and will have to master Internet especially in business to business exchanges. So using it in business to administrations relations will be a win-win opportunity for both partners, and has to be promoted as an important aspect of governmental policy for developing Internet.
The project has another interesting aspect, related to the concept of portal - which can be considered if one may say so as a virtual one-stop government office. Two categories of portals are proposed, as said above. The first one, which is the easier to realize, will be dedicated to collect informations available for the users (users being private entreprises and local officies of the social securities agencies). The second will be an interconnectivity platform able to receive, formate and dispatch all messages related to an more and more complete set of social and statistical applications, in order to be transparent to users. Easy-to-use and not expensive, if not free, softwares will be specified, in order to facilitate such an approach to both private and public users.
If the project appears to be a success, nothing will prevent it, or the logic of it, to be extended to non-social procedures (ie fiscal, statistical, environmental...spheres) and to be proposed to relations between citizens and administrations. But it is too early to anticipate such a perspective.
iv) Status of project
To-day, the Net-Entreprises project has been sensibly delayed. It was initially scheduled in order to produce new social messages in the Internet format for 1999, since the greatest part of negociations with partners took place in 1998 and beginning of 1999. The project was supposed to integrate a majority of social organisms, if not all of them, including those of the private sector (" mutuelles " and " retraites complémentaires "). What would be indeed the value added by an integration procedure of which may be half of the required partners would be out ? But, for reaching this objective, it would have been necessary to mobilize social organisms through a very strong political will, clearly demonstrated (we are in France) by the Prime Minister cabinet.
This has not been done, and is not yet done, since priories for french government in the social domain are elsewhere, for instance in the finalisation of the so-said 35hours law ( to limit the working hours per week to 35). So the project Net-entreprises cannot expect to benefit of an important political support. It is sad to add that many governmental experts still do not really understand the issues of Internet applications in administrative sector, so nobody is really pushing, and the project managers are somewhat left to their own devices.
i) Project Description
Prefectures are, as noted above, administrative territorial structures specific to France. The prefect is simultaneously the representant in the " département " of " ministère de l'Intérieur " in charge of administrative responsabilities linked with law enforcement and police, and the head or coordinator of the departemental representatives of the other ministers. The same in the " Région ". Useless to say that, for at least ordinary administrative jobs, when no crisis is in sight, the ministerial territorial directors work directly with their central administration, and forget often to advise the prefect of what they are doing or planning.
To-day, with the Internet/intranet developments, new tools for interadministrative cooperation at departemental and regional level are implemented, whith the support of Prime minister's PAGSI. We can mention a projet called SIT (Territorial Information System) which is a secured intranet between territorial administrations, enabling services to exchange informations and cooperate if necessary. Local administrations (cities, hospitals, etc.) will have the possibility of being connected for common tasks fulfilment. SIT can be considered as a first step for latter one-stop government, but to-day, it is only a framework. Cooperative applications will have to be developped, and this will oblige territorial services to learn how to work better together.
Prefectures are generally considered by citizens as some sort of one-stop government, since they are in charge of delivering many administrative documents required by law : driving licence, identity card, passports and so on. But these documents are not similar, they are the product of non compatible files, their datas have to be seriously secured from fraud and intrusion, so the offices in charge of delivering them remain different. Citizens are obliged to produce specific and no-reusable informations in order to get them..
Furthermore, some very important documents interesting citizens, as birth or marriage certificats, are not issued by prefectures, but by town councils. Many people do not understand why all these documents are not available in the same place, with the same requirements.
With the development of electronic commerce and services, the Internet connected people will ask why it is necessary to go personnally to an often overcrowded office, and not be authorized to use teletransmission, when administrative documents are concerned.
Yet, ministry of Interior has been very careful in front of Internet developments, and the perspective of linking prefectures to central administration, first, and to other services afterwards. They feared, not without any reason, the possibility of encouraging frauds if not crime. So they decided to realize a complete and secured intranet network between central and territorial offices, before authorizing prefects to work in cooperation with the internet standards.
This secured intranet is now practically installed in half of the prefectures in France, and is expected to be completely operational at the beginning of 2000. So it is possible to begin working for accelerating and facilitating the deliverance of administrative documents to citizens.
The first step is to give practical informations to public on a web site. The second is to make teleprocedures more or less completely feasable.
ii) Problem area
The first step is the easier : to give practical informations on a web site, about the prefecture, the organisation, the people in charge and, progressively, about administrative procedures available to the public. So easy that some prefects, as in Grenoble, decided by themselves to take the risk, long before being authorized by the minister. They installed in 1997-98 these sites as private persons do, working with the market offers, without standard framework. Of course, they were criticised, but they did a good job.
To-day, the idea is quite accepted by the hierarchy. Prefects are encouraged to open sites, with more or less standardized contents, logos, etc. But they are not yet really obliged to do so. In mid 1999, about 40% of prefectures are not yet on the web - which is not really a good record, as to-day, everywhere, citizens are looking for digitalized information from administrations. In many prefectures, the site is considered as not very important, and is not managed as an efficient tool for facilitating relations with the public. They are more supposed to be a gadget than a really useful innovation both for the administration and the public.
As for teleprocedures, the story was not really different. The pioneers on the web, as in Grenoble, were pioneers too in cooperative teleworking. They decided, before any authorization from the national level, to allow the telecharging of forms from the web of the prefecture, and to organize a follow-up of the documents received, through local networks obliging different offices to work together if necessary, in order to accelerate the response and improve its quality.
The results of such experiments apperared to be satisfying. People in relation with the prefectures said they were happy. The staff, after some fears about the risk of to great a change So easy that in working conditions, decided that cooperative work could produce advantages. But, after some months, the ministry authorities, having understood what was happening, decided that it was better for the precursors to wait national developments, in order to have the same solutions all over the territory, at the same time. So to-day, prefectures limit themselves to link to the national servor for forms, managed by the Directorate for national documentation (Direction de la Documentation Française).
The SIT previously mentionned will be theorically able to accomodate teleprocedures, but it is not realistic to hope that these teleprocedures, except minor ones, will be developped from the bottom, after local agreement between territorial directors and the prefects. Nobody to-day is authorized to work in the internet spirit : do it yourself. It is still necessary to wait for national levels authorizations and models, especially in domains where civil rights, personal datas and so on are dealt with.
iii) One-Stop-Government root
The prefectures, as well as the city halls, are places where citizens generally go and look for administrative informations, or do what they are legally obliged to do. But, as in rural areas as in urban metropolis, going physically in an office is more and more considered as unacceptable. So logically, in the next future, we shall see solutions mixing networking, teleworking and human assistance, helping citizens in their relations with administrations. Progressively too, some relatively similar procedures will be aggregated and, when possible, simplified. So we shall see more and more partial one-stop government solutions expand, some under the responsability of prefects, some under the responsability of Directors from other ministries, and some finally under the responsability of local authorities, as far as they will be concerned.
Ideally, it would be better to work in that direction bottom-up, inside a general legal framework. But, as in France, top-down approach make people feel secure, it is possible that we shall have to wait many years before seing local one-stop government solutions at work.
2.3. Cities : Parthenay District
Local authorities, especially cities, are in France as elsewhere, more and more convinced that Internet offers efficient interface in the political dialogue between electors and local politicians. This conviction is however relatively recent, so many cities still do not have web sites or do not try to propose sophisticated applications on their sites.
From the point of view of facilitating administrative procedures by one-stop government solutions, cities limit themselves strictly to their own sphere of competences, which is relatively narrow, since, even after an increase of responsabilities after the decentralisation laws of 1982-83, these responsabilities are still not as important and diversified as they are in many european countries. Intercollectivity cooperation, from the other hand, is not a cultural reflex among them, so the idea of offering common solutions for piloting citizens in the legal complexity is not really welcomed.
These two reasons explain why we do not find in France significative exemples of local one-stop government on line. Some precursors nevertheless must be mentionned, and the most known of them is the city (district) of Parthenay. District is a legal concept : a group of little cities agree to cooperate, generally under the leadership of one of them.
City of Parthenay'mayor, Michel Hervé, decided long before his colleagues that it could be useful to experiment information technologies as a way to promote sociological and political innovation for people's benefit. The idea, shared by the european instigators of the well known Numeric City movement, was to connect everybody in a given territory, in order to observe what new practices and behaviours could emerge. To-day, Parthenay is still ahead in the philosophical debates about information society, despite the fact that many others appliants have taken the same train. The town is for exemple member of the european project Imagine.
Parthenay's web site (www.district-parthenay.fr) illustrates clearly this. At least 20 various activities are displayed, many interactive services are offered, from education, electronic commerce, culture to entertainment. Despite the fact, or because the fact that population do not exceed 20.000, it is true that, with a rate of about 50% connected, Parthenay is still to-day an interesting laboratory for semi-rural semi-urban mid-size cities.
So the idea of proposing administrative services was considered since the beginning as an important issue. It is obvious that giving the possibility of performing administrative acts without having to go to the Niort préfecture, which is rather far from Parthenay, would have been well received. A one-stop government service, including local and national administrations offices and formalities, would have been a first-rate innovation.
Unfortunately, to-day, one may observe, on the web site pages dedicated to public services that nothing more than what is generally offered by other cities and prefectures is available. We are far from what could have been possible with an ambitious project. (http ://220.127.116.11/servicespublic/default.htm)
Terms of references for this aborted one-stop government project specified at least 3 steps for dematerialisation and simplification : inside the city administration, between the city administration and the prefecture, towards the central government administrations in the department and the region.
The second and third steps supposed the agreement of governmental administrations representatives in the department and the region. The prefect, being the leading one, was first contacted, but they all answered that they were not authorized to experiment virtuel or even simplified relations for accessing the central government applications. Everything was to be decided in study groups in Paris, which of course were to be installed by the Prime minister. It was obvious that Parthenay was not enough politically important for launching such a vessel, so the project was withdrawn.
Of course, one of the difficulty was to secure the signature. No device was agreed at the time by french law. Still to-day, the problem is not solutionned. Administrations are waiting for a specific law, scheduled for year 2000, to precise the signature and protection of privacy softwares authorized for administrative exchanges.
3. Best Practices
It is difficult, as one-stop government realisations in France are rather poor, to propose best practices for such projects. Nevertheless, preliminary works, and even failures, show rather clearly what would be now be necessary for success - supposing of course that technologies and social requirements do not change, which is far from certain. Some rules for best practices may be listed :
- Convince yourself that, in the next 2 to 3 years, everybody, private person or enterprise, will be connected to Internet and willing to use it for lessening costs.
- Do not separate the problems of administrative teleprocedures and other exchanges on the Internet. Same tools, same practices, same standards must be adopted.
- Be aware that technological solutions are improving very quickly, getting less and less expensive and more and more easy to use (for instance in the domain of XML/EDI). So, do not try to reinvent everything, but join, for instance through e.mail, development groups already at work.
- Do not try to simplify regulations and in the same time to implement teleprocessing. Generally, simplification must be considered as impossible on the short term, because they require too long preliminary negociations. For the future, experience will probably show that it is useless, since technology get clever and clever, and can manage complexity relatively easely for the end user.
- Do not try to realize ambitious programs for one-stop government, integrating the whole lot of regulations, forms and so on. Generally speaking, you must stick to Internet philosophy : begin immediately, make small, proceed quickly.
- Insist on the win-win aspect of dematerialisation. Gains can be obtained both by administrations and by private sector. Accurate costs-benefits analysis are obviously necessary.
- Be very careful when working with software companies. They may try to oblige you to adopt complex and expensive solutions, inherited from archaic informatics, when you could develop by yourself cheap and efficient Internet applications.
- Do not forget the communiation and awareness aspect of your projects, since they fully rely on good will and cooperation from partners.
4. Assessment of one-stop-government in France
As prevously said, France is just beginning to enter in the information society and to use Internet/intranet for professionnal applications. So few people consider to-day that one-stop government and teleprocedures could become quickly a reality, instead of remaining a fantasm. A least, political programs do not insist on such issues.
Nevertheless, as the Prime minister has announced in august 1997 that on-line public administration was a important target in the national Program for entering into the information society, one must evaluate, more than 2 years after, how this has been realised.
Obviously, much time have been lost, probably because difficulties have been underevaluated, or because unsuspected resistances have develop. For instance, the avalaibility of electronic secured solutions for signature has been promised for 1988. To-day, the project for a law on this matter has only be presented to the parliament, and is not expected to be approved before mid-2000. Without such a law, in France legal environment and practices, administrative teleprocedures are practically impossible.
Despite this, there are some field-experiments about teleprocedures, but none of them, as we have seen above, is significant enough for being a locomotive for the rest of the train. Nothing from the other hand can be expected from local public authorities, since their autonomy is not sufficient for allowing them to innovate on a large scale.
Experts generally agree on the various obstacles which should be got around :
- legal inadequacy, as previously stated ;
- lack of know-how and training among the potential users. Ignorance of recent internet solutions and standards is long to disappear.
- fear of having to reorganize traditional organization and jobs, in administrations as well as in enterprises.
- lack of pressure for downsizing structures and costs in the public service, by lack of bench-marking and concurrence from outside world.
- more fundamentally, reluctance to cooperate with potential partners, under the authority of a project leader.
- and finally, a mix of an excessive centralization which prohibits local developments, and of a new shyness at government level, excessive authority here being more and more considered as unproductive.
These obstacles are not specific to France. They can be met in other european countries. So it appears necessary to wonder whether the methodology chosen for developping teleprocedures and one-stop government is good.
Observers looking how new solutions appear and spread on the web suggest that the only way for developing teleprocedures and partnership in order to share one-stop government solutions would be to allow public administrations, at local level, to invent or reinvent their own solutions, even in disorder (despite differences, duplication and so on). Private sector's cooperation would be asked, if necessary, in order to encourage new technical or procedural solutions.
This would be the end of negative tutorship from the central level. Instructions from government woul be : " we have fixed general common standards for teleprocedures. In conformance with them, you are requested to develop local solutions, where and with whom you think adequate. In 12 or 19 months, a general evaluation will be organised, and we shall appreciate with you what to do after. Of course, you will use plenty of web communication in order to increase social awareness about what you will be doing. If during this experimental period, you think necessary to depart from present regulations, you will be authorised to do so if respecting such and such conditions " .
I personnaly think that such a " liberalisation " would contribute to give renewed impetus to the process towards teleprocedures and one-stop government. On the contrary, waiting for central government to oblige all administrations to fully dematerialize their procedures before a given date (as proposed by some french senators to-day) and in a perfectly controlled process, would be irrealistic. Definitively, with the Internet spreading, we have to decide between top-down and bottom-up mechanisms for development, even in centralised governmental organisations.
- Jean-Paul Baquiast, Internet et les administrations, la grande mutation, Berger-Levrault 1999.
- Jean-Paul Baquiast, Les administrations et les autoroutes de l'information, vers la cyber-administration, Les Editions d'Organisation 1996.
- Rémy Marchand, Hervé Agnoux et Claude Chiramonti, Applications EDI sur l'Internet, Eyrolles 1999
On the web :
- Jean-Paul Baquiast, le Guichet unique dans l'administration française,1999 http://www.admiroutes.asso.fr/espace/teleguichet/bremen.htm
- Philippe Piraux : Internet et les formalités à distance, 1999 http ://www.admiroutes.asso.fr/espace/teleguichet/piraux.htm
- Rémy Marchand , rapport sur l'EDI dans l'administration, 1996, http://www.admiroutes.asso.fr/espace/teleguichet/piraux.htm
- Programme d'action gouvernemental pour la société de l'information, http://www.internet.gouv.fr