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Charlotte Amalie
Thursday, July 25, 2024
HomeNewsLocal governmentFragmented Websites, High Costs Plague V.I. Government's Online Presence, Senator Says

Fragmented Websites, High Costs Plague V.I. Government’s Online Presence, Senator Says

Rupert Ross, director of the Bureau of Information Technology, cautioned senators that enhancing the government’s presence on the Internet would not be cheap. (Photo courtesy of V.I. Legislature)

Senator Samuel Carriόn raised concerns this week about the V.I. government’s disjointed web presence, citing issues from “tremendous” maintenance and design costs to a lack of accessibility for users with disabilities.

Carriόn sponsored a bill he said was “both practical and necessary” to address these problems. After receiving testimony Monday, the Committee on Government Operations, Veterans Affairs, and Consumer Protection unanimously voted to send the bill to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration. This move signifies a potential step towards a more streamlined and user-friendly online government experience, Carriόn said.

“We will have to invest in our Bureau of Information Technology, however, we will save in the long run, while making all government interactions more efficient and user-friendly,” he added.

According to testimony at the hearing, the 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act (IDEA) bill aims to improve websites and digital services throughout the Virgin Islands Government and conform to federal handicap-accessible regulations.

Stephan Adams, CEO of Next Generation Network, called the bill “fantastic.” He recommended that the government establish a centralized government website that “would enable Virgin Islanders to easily navigate between all agencies in a single online visit, ensuring a common user experience. He added it would also allow the use of a “shopping cart” for multiple service transactions.”

Julien Henley, the government’s ADA coordinator, testified that the bill would ensure accessibility to individuals with disabilities.

Rupert O. Ross, director of the Bureau of Information Technology, offered words of caution. He testified, “While the bill is comprehensive and aligns with Governor Bryan’s vision for a digital and accessible government, areas require further attention, particularly funding and governance mechanisms. These aspects, if not clearly outlined, will likely pose challenges during implementation.”

He received support from Henley, who said, “BIT is well-positioned to spearhead efforts in implementing the Act. However, it’s essential to acknowledge the challenges BIT may face in reallocating resources to address the bill’s new priorities. Meeting the bill’s requirements may prove challenging without additional resources and support.”

Senators discussed whether federal grant money would be available to support the effort.

Sen. Carla Joseph said the General Fund of the Virgin Islands was limited in what help it could give.

“We presently have each of our various agencies individually contracting out the design, hosting, and maintenance of their websites at a tremendous cost,” Carriόn said at the Monday hearing and in a press release after the hearing.

Adams testified that the government also needed to examine how artificial intelligence will affect it.

“AI will have a profound effect on our society,” he said.

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