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Perhaps due to my background in technology, I was encouraged to do a

review of the literature of issues concerning technology and government,

although this class, URPA 5351, is about the study of Human Resources in

government. I wanted to relate the findings to the content of the class, and I

quickly realized that this would involve more than a listing of particular software

or databases used by different government agencies. In fact, as a first step, it

would take me on a journey into the concept of e-government. However,

throughout the course, I began to see that HR management acts within a political

context. Just as “ideal” HR values of a particular organization can be skewed by

organizational culture (Dresang, 2002, p.10), so also can these values be

distorted by forces that provide the framework for organizational existence at the

city, state, federal, and even regional level of political organization. And just as

the fact that HR acts within a political context, so also does technology ‘act’ within

a political context, and has social implications. Ultimately, the technology utilized

directly or indirectly by an HR department acts within a political context as well.

In narrowing the topic of this paper, I decided to focus on the values and the

forces that are shaping the way government uses and influences technology,

whether or not the values and forces reinforce one another, and some effects this

might have on hiring decisions made by HR in government. Therefore, this

paper will not touch on many technologies such as GPS, GIS, particular designs

and protocols for future internet construction such as I2, and so forth. Due to the

nature of the topic, current information is somewhat difficult to unearth since until

recently, most of discussions of e-government focused on ICT and restructuring

of government rather than the accompanying social problems. Most of the

sources I have used are easily accessible from the internet, fitting well with the

online course format.


E-government has been defined and described in different ways by various

authors, attempting to capture a number of areas ranging from e-service and e-

management to e-democracy and e-policy. Roughly speaking, e-government is

concerned with using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to

enhance the provision of public services, improve management effectiveness,

and promote democracy. This roughly parallels the attempts in the private sector

to change from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge and technology-based

economy. The Cox News Service reported as of February 27, 2007, that Texas

was ranked fourth in the amount of e-government initiatives. Has all of this

activity pushed Texas to a leadership position in terms of economic

transformation? Unfortunately, the article states that Texas ranked fourteenth

overall compared to other states (Keefe, 2007). While Texas builds prisons and

discusses infrastructure arrangement such as The Trans-Texas Corridor (TCC),

other states have pulled ahead. Keefe states that

Texas, particularly Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth area, helped usher in the

New Economy age during the 1990s, with the rise of high-tech and telecom jobs

and companies. But since then, Texas has been outpaced by states such as

Massachusetts and California in new areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology

and Internet-based communications.

Robert Behn (2005) exhorts us to move beyond e-government to I-

government. He sees e-government largely as an effort to automate formerly

manual processes of handling information, while the crux of what government

does remains the same. On the other hand, he sees I-government as true

innovation – the attempt to redesign and re-engineer as opposed to simply

automate existing processes. He gives the example of Chicago’s 311 call

system, as well as the Compstat and Citistat technologies developed by New

York’s Police Department, and Baltimore, respectively. It is interesting to note

that most of the innovations that he listed came from law-enforcement.

And while Behn challenges us to use technology for true innovation in

government, other leading voices encourage us to think about how technology

effects the relationship we have with our fellow man. One of the innovators in the

discussion of e-government is Jane Fountain, author of “Building the Virtual

State”. In a 2006 online article, Allison Lake quotes Ms. Fountain as stating that

“we shouldn't really be talking about e-government anymore. We are well beyond

the e-mail and Web site stage. We need to return to the objective of government”

(Lake, 2006). Fountain made similar remarks back in October of 2005 in her

keynote address at the eGovernment Consultation Workshop for the 7th

Framework Programme in the Information Society Technology Programme held

in Brussels. In the speech, she states that one of the three areas for future

research with regard to these e-government key challenges is social justice –

and not just the digital divide with regard to access to the internet. Fountain

(2005) states the following:

At the core of democracy is the need to constantly fight against social inequalities.

We need to pay explicit attention to the relationship between the development of

e-government and it’s potential and actual effects on social inequality. If we do

not, I fear that without an explicit research agenda, we will just be building faster,

better, cheaper, status quo e-government.

Fountain should be credited with the recognition that although technology has

made us more efficient, it does not automatically make us more democratic.

So how can we examine the relationship between technology and social

inequality? Where is money being spent, and by whom, and for what type of

innovations? These and myriad other questions can be asked, most beyond the

scope of this paper, but one tool to take note of is Fountain’s introduction of the

Technology Enactment Framework. One of the key aspects of this framework is

the distinction between ICT itself, on the one hand, and the perceptions and use

of this technology by people. There has been debate about the number and type

of actors involved, whether she is guilty of ‘technological determinism’, and

whether or not it could be applied on a macro scale. However, her concepts for

the most part have served as a guiding light in the discussion of e-government,

and others have attempted to modify some of her ideas to better explain why

some attempts at e-government seem to succeed while other efforts fail.

Harvard University’s Alexander Schellong (2007), for example, is hesitant to

agree with Fountain’s argument, yet he does not outright reject them either.
Instead, he admits that she has made an important contribution, and he attempts

to modify the Technology Enactment Framework in order to pull it into a more

acceptable socio-technical systems theory approach. In addition, both Schellong

and Fountain, in the previously cited sources, have indicated a need for greater

interoperability between government agencies.

For purposes of the rest of this paper, we will assume that there is indeed a

difference between ICT and the actors who use it. The focus will be on social

justice issues called for by Fountain rather than interoperability. Not only can ICT

shape the actions of the actors who use the technology, but the reverse is also

true. The actors themselves, including government and even individual citizens

(Schellong, 2007), who use technology, have the opportunity to shape future

implementations of technological development through market participation as

well as product feedback. The multiple actors, besides the e-government

utilizing organizations, are not as critical from an HR perspective as simply the

understanding that technology can indeed be shaped by different groups of

actors, including government itself. How does this relate to social justice? There

are multiple answers to this question, but one of the biggest questions involves

how government influences the use and development of technology, and whether

this leads to social justice and a more representative society in terms of the hiring

decisions performed by HR agencies on a daily basis. This will be expanded

upon further at the end of the discussion on forces/trends that affect technology

and ultimately hiring decisions.


In order to understand how technology and other forces can affect HR hiring

decisions, let’s back up a moment and take a look at some of the values of HR,

as discussed in the opening paragraph. Human resource management within

government is concerned not just with finding competent employees, but also

that these employees are representative of society. Too often, however, the

connection is overlooked concerning the fact that a representative society is the

basis for a representative government. Therefore, it is important to at least

consider some of the benefits and drawbacks of representative government. In

order to do this, it is helpful to consider the term itself. “Representative

government”, like the term “diversity”, can have several meanings. The first

meaning involves the idea of accountability of elected officials to the people that

elect them. The second meaning involves social representation of the

multiformity and variety of different types of people included within our society.

The first definition implies that the person being elected by peers to represent

them will do so on some basis of merit, and that is the first value and benefit of a

representative government. It also implies the value and benefit of accountability

for one’s work, since the elected official is answerable to voters, at least on

election day. The second definition implies the value and benefit of equal

opportunity to people who work in this country. However, it does not just mean

citizens of the United States, for better or for worse. Indeed, Title VII of the 1964

Civil Rights Act specifies that there should be no discrimination against any

individual due to race, color, sex, religion, or national origin. Despite questions
of fairness, Title VII implies that there is no longer such a thing as an “American

job”. A foreigner has just as much right to a job offered by a corporation on

American soil as an American citizen. Therefore, it is a bit disconcerting to speak

of a representative society and diversity when the target population for a job on

American soil can include everyone from the entire planet.

Anyone, that is, except a US citizen who has been screened out of the

employment process due to a conviction. Although a person coming from a

different national origin may have a conviction as well, this would not be detected

in many cases by American HR background searches, which would only screen

out citizens of this country. Many local governments have requirements for

employment that a person must live within the boundaries of the city; however,

they also screen applicants based on background checks. Simply put, most

employers are unwilling to hire those with convictions, and if they are hired, they

end of working in menial labor where there is little chance of contact with the

public. Holtzer, Raphael, and Stoll (2001) stated in their study concerning

employer background checks and their willingness to hire ex-offenders, that

Employer willingness to hire ex-offenders is very limited, even relative to other

groups of disadvantaged workers (such as welfare recipients). Employer
willingness to hire is highly correlated with establishment and job characteristics,
and is much lower in financial or service jobs and in those involving a variety of
tasks, particularly direct customer contact, than elsewhere. Employer tendencies
to check criminal backgrounds also vary greatly with characteristics of the
establishment such as its size, which presumably reflects both the resources and
expertise available for human resource functions. (Holtzer, Raphael, and Stoll,
2001, p.30)

The study states that 9 percent of all men will serve time in state or federal

prisons, including 30 percent of African-American men and 16 percent of

Hispanic men (Holtzer, 2001, p.3). It should be kept in mind that these men are

or become fathers, and that their children need to be supported. Elaine

Sorensen(2001), in testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives

Subcommitee on Human Resources Committee on Ways and Means, states that

One employment barrier that disproportionately affects poor noncustodial

fathers is incarceration and having a criminal record. Nearly 30 percent of
poor noncustodial fathers who do not pay child support are
institutionalized. Most of these fathers are in prison. Once these fathers
leave institutional life, their work prospects will not improve that much.
Their criminal record and interrupted labor force participation make these
men unattractive to prospective employers.

Technology has provided the HR professional the means to discriminate on

behalf of the employing entity by means of database and criminal records

searches which are shared across the country. A man with a mark on his record

has no place to go to start a new life…anywhere he turns, the situation will be the

same in terms of the employment process. Yet the sad fact is that employers are

more willing to break the law by hiring foreigners and illegal aliens (who, by

definition, broke the law by entering the country illegally) than domestic ex-

offenders citizens. The forces behind this fact are the subject of the following

discussion on the economic plans formed and / or endorsed by some of the most

influential leaders of our nation.


Rather than attempt to prove a casual relationship between technology and

hiring decisions in government agencies, I will simply point towards a few major

and obvious trends that I believe influence the hiring process negatively in
relationship to the values that have thus far been hammered out through the

political process within the United States. Some might argue that each element

is not actually a negative force, such as the first force or element - the trend

towards reinventing government. But what is important is how the element

affects the values of a representative society and representative government,

and also how it might affect the hiring decision of HR professionals. The second

force or element is the push towards regionalization as a solution to current

economic problems. The third element is the alarming rate of incarceration of

U.S. citizens compared to other countries of the world, and is more of a trend

than an independent force.

The current emphasis on reinventing government is but the latest phase of

change since the inception of the Pendelton Act of 1883, and includes

reinventing Human Resource management, which has generally meant a

strengthening of accountability of employees to management in order to provide

managers with more flexibility in pursuing goals of increased productivity. This is

particularly true in reform states such as Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Focusing

on Texas, which has done away with a mandatory civil-service structure, and

embraced at-will employment principles, the question remains as to whether

there is still a balance in the interplay of values. In order to examine this issue,

Jerrell D. Coggburn (2006) surveyed HR directors of different these state

agencies. He concludes that

at-will employment does enhance executive control over government, it does

nothing to attract new employees or to positively motivate existing staff members.

Moreover, at-will employment may discourage certain forms of desirable

behavior (e.g., whistleblowing, risk taking) and, at the same time, encourage

undesirable behavior (e.g., poor decision making, insensitivity to procedural

fairness). At a time when America’s best and brightest opt not to pursue

government careers, when those retiring from government do not recommend

public service careers to others, and when antigovernment sentiment runs deep,

government should be exploiting the competitive advantages it has—such as job

security—to meet its HR challenges. Far from helping curb the quiet crisis, at-will

employment may be helping to build a perfect storm in public sector employment

(Coggburn, 2006, p.174).

Organizational culture can certainly affect the balance of representative

government values at a department level (Dresang, 2002, p. 10), but it is clear

that Coggburn believes that state laws also can have an effect on organizational

culture as well. And while I agree that a perfect storm may be brewing, I believe

that the problem has progressed far enough to have attracted the attention of

legislators. While the reinvention of government started under Clinton, its

acceleration of effects, particularly the most negative effects, have taken place

while republicans have been in power. Were the country to move strongly back

to the left, I believe that there would be an attempt to address these excesses

that Coggburn sees on the horizon. However, the success of restoring a more
representative government and a representative bureaucracy, hopefully based on

merit, will largely be dependent on the stability and growth of the economy. At

the point of this writing, the housing market continues to crash, the dollar is

taking a continued beating on the exchange market and has reached all-time

lows against the euro, several major countries have or are considering

diversifying assets from dollars to other currencies, and consumer debt is soaring

while consumer spending has cooled. The BBC reported on April 30, 2007 that

the US and EU have agreed to build a common market (see endnotes for

reference), and of course there is the continued push for a North American

Union. It could be asked whether the balance of values of representative

government, some of which were mentioned earlier such as merit, accountability,

societal representation, and career opportunities (Dresang, 2002, p.10), are

skewed or contradicted by these forces as well.

This, of course, leads to the second force that might provide a context for the

understanding of how technology in government can effect the hiring decisions

reached at the HR level. The second force to be discussed is the push towards

regionalization as a solution to economic problems within the United States.

Again, just as the values of a representative government can be skewed by

organizational culture, and, as we have seen, state legal frameworks, so can

these values be effected at other levels of government. The Council on Foreign

Relations (2005) sponsored an independent Task Force to study issues related to

follow up of the NAFTA accords, and released the results of their study in their

2005 paper entitled “Building a North American Community”. While the Council
has no affiliation with the U.S. government, it is important to note that nearly

every former US president since WWII has been a member as well as the

majority of State Department influentials. The paper calls for a common market

and common security perimeter between Canada, the United States, and Mexico

on page 30 and 31 of the document. It does not call for a political union, but

keep in mind that economic union is a natural precursor for political union, just as

in the EU, and this will be even more pronounced since security will be an issue

on the table. Central to the arrangement is the issue of handling border security

in ways which would not impede the free movement of goods and people across

the border. And central to border security is the development of a North

American Border Pass with biometric identifiers as an alternative to building a

physical wall at the border. The biometric agreement is not suprising based on

the Smart Border Declaration update published by the (2004), which states that

the facial recognition biometric “had been selected as the globally interoperable

biometric”, with iris recognition and fingerprints to be used as secondary

identifiers. The U.S. Department of State (2007) has informed the public

through their departmental website that the newly designed e-passports (U.S.

Electronic Passports) contain small electronic chips that enable the use of this

facial recognition technology at international airports. Facial recognition

technology was proven highly inaccurate in crowd control situations back in

2002 according to the ACLU report “Drawing a Blank”(Stanley & Steinhardt,

2002), although the technology may have improved since then. However,

although the use of closed-circuit television cameras (CCTV) by local law

enforcement may involve the use of face-recognition technology, many of the

cameras being installed around the country are being installed on roads and

traffic light intersections, so the probability is that the technology is being used

to read license plate tags, which it is more than accurate enough to perform.

Instead of trying to imagine a policeman in an isolated room trying to read

license plates from a multitude of networked CCTV cameras, simply imagine

software that detects the license plates from the feeds of these traffic light

cameras. Car tags from people that have been identified for whatever reason

as potential law-enforcement risks can be fed into the system, enabling police

and under-cover agents to monitor and quickly converge on a ‘suspect’ once

the cameras and software had alerted them of the suspect’s location, and

thus would be a complement to GPS tracking technology.

Without getting into the legalities of privacy issues, which are a legitimate

concern, it is helpful to understand the existing state of incarceration of U.S.

citizens. An article in Criminal Justice by Catherine L. Anderson(2005) states

that since 1980, the adult prison population has increased more than 300

percent, and that our incarceration rate is at least six times that of Canada,

Australia, and Western Europe. She wonders whether more people are

committing crimes in the United States as compared to the rest of the world, or if,

on the other hand, is there a political motivation to appear tough on crime. At any

rate, she points out that Federal crimes account for only 5 percent of all

prosecutions in the United States. Most prosecutions take place at the local

level. I will point to an article written by Paul Craig Roberts (2006), former
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. Apparently Mr.

Roberts believes that a great deal of this increase has come under the Bush

administration, and is unwarranted. Roberts cites statistics from The International

Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London:

the US has the largest percentage of its citizens imprisoned of all countries in the
world, including China. One of every 32 US adults is behind bars, on probation or
on parole...the US has 700,000 more of its citizens incarcerated than China, a
country with a population four to five times larger than that of the US, and
1,330,000 more people in prison than crime-ridden Russia. The US has 5% of the
world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners. The American incarceration
rate is seven times higher than that of European countries. Either America is the
land of criminals, or something is seriously wrong with the criminal justice (sic)
system in "the land of the free”.

It is reasonable to assume that the addition of cameras planted throughout

American cities will only increase the rate of incarcerations. According to

Roberts, many of these incarcerations are based on prosecutor gaming of the

system in order to procure easy convictions by threatening maximum prison

times allowed by law unless a person makes a plea-bargain deal, and not

surprisingly more than 95% or all felony cases are therefore settled with a plea

bargain. As a Reagan Republican and already a stauch defender of legal rights

of citizens, he became convinced that the present administration is acting

contrary to the Constitution of this country, and that these trends towards

criminalization of the American public are increasing due to illegal use of power,

such as spying without warrants. Roberts (2006), in another article, states the

…We have reached a point where the Bush administration is determined to
totally eclipse the people. Bewitched by neoconservatives and lustful for power,
the Bush administration and the Republican Party are aligning themselves firmly
against the American people.

Their first victims, of course, were the true conservatives. Having eliminated
internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained
through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the
opposition party.

Whether or not one agrees with Roberts about the politicalization and corruption

of the justice system, it is possible for HR professionals to develop empathy for

fellow citizens. How many people do you know that have had a brush with the

law due to something like substance abuse or driving while under the influence?

People can get over a drinking or drug problem, but they can never get over a

conviction due to background screening of employers and the HR companies,

both in private industry and in government. This is true whether the charge

involves drugs, or trumped up charges of “assault on a police officer” which may

be politically motivated, such as was attempted on Rep.Cynthia McKinney, a

lawmaker and outspoken anti-war activist (Head, 2006). The fact that certain

segments of the domestic population (blacks) are convicted at such high rates

compared to their population percentage should be kept in mind when entering

into discussions of affirmative action and equal opportunity. If illegal immigration

were uniformly enforced to the same extent as laws concerning drugs, the prison

system would be crushed under it’s own weight. For some Americans born and

raised in this country, the idea of illegal immigrants being allowed to work illegally

in the United States is not an issue of prejudice or xenophobia, but of fairness. If

we wish for those released from prison, or who otherwise have a mark on their
record, to be able to go on and live a clean life free from crime, then it is

important to not cut them off from employment for which they are suited and

capable of performing. Branding someone with a scarlet letter for life can in no

way contribute to the functioning of a just society, and is just as important a social

justice issue as a representative society. Unfortunately, shared national criminal

databases, the push for open borders, and the de-Americanization of jobs

located within corporations still located on US soil almost guarantees that the

Scarlet Letter will be branded on these men and women for life, even after they

have supposedly already “paid their debt to society”.

Some of the brightest advocates of e-government have recognized the need

to also focus on the relationship between technology and social inequalities. HR

professionals both within government and the private industry have the capability

of peeking into a person’s entire life through the use of background search

databases. At the same time, the staggering amount of incarcerated citizens in

the United States, in comparison to the rest of the world, only portends a

continuance of the same trends due to the ability of law enforcement to watch

and monitor nearly every footstep of it’s citizen population, in an increasingly

politicalized environment, and to create databases which are shared with the

public, including HR professionals. Americans are becoming progressively more

criminalized, and those branded with convictions are screened out of the

employment process, while at the same time jobs are being given to newcomers

to the country, some of which broke the law by entering the country illegally.

However, although the author of this paper support legal immigration, this paper
is not meant to target illegal aliens, many of who come here in desperation

because they have absolutely no future in their own country. The real focus,

once again, is on the progressive criminalization of those in the United States by

police who increasingly seem to have forgotten the constitution and Bill of Rights,

and the effects on the employability of those who have a conviction on their

record. The HR professional who does a background check usually does not ask

questions when finding a mark of certain categories on an applicant’s record.

Instead, the assumption is made that the police made a moral arrest, and that the

legal system is for the most part infallible. The New York Civil Liberties Union

(2005) reports that over 1,800 people were arrested at the Republican National

Convention back in 2004, and 10% of those arrested were convicted of

supposedly committing some crime, although videotapes abounded providing

evidence of police perjury. Some of these people will find that the mark on their

record will affect their employment for the rest of their life. On May 1, 2007,

LAPD police and SWAT teams used non-lethal (but still painful) rubber-bullet

technology to attack citizens and non-citizens who were engaging in a peaceful

immigrant-rights demonstration. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed

Carol Sobel, president of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Sobel(2007) states that

“quite frankly, what happened is when the police decided to sweep the park and

close it down, there was no one that was doing anything more than heckling them.

And they were -- I wouldn't say “heckling,” even, I would say “criticizing” them

-- and they were doing it because what happened during the course of this march
is that the police wanted open up a street, and rather than talking to people and

saying, “Can you move onto the sidewalk? Can you move into the park now?”

what they did was run their motorcycles into women and children in the Aztec

dancers group, who were in the street at that point still. And the street was closed

to traffic, but they were in the street performing their ritual circle dance at the end

of the march. And so, you had the police doing one of the most provocative things

they could do, and all of a sudden it is the fault of the demonstrators when the

police literally use their motorcycles to strike people as a means of crowd control

and to strike women and children as a means of crowd control, when people were


…there are rules within the LAPD about how you set up a press area. They just

didn't care. I mean, they just -- you know, if a press person was knocked down,

they struck him with a baton to get him up. If the cameraman got knocked down

and the reporter tried to help him up, they beat the cameraman and the reporter. It

was just -- it was senseless.”

While some swaggering law-and-order types might promote a “that’s what you

get” attitude and wield the brand of the scarlet letter, it may be that the forces that

wish to recreate government are actually influencing technology in an Orwellian

manner, and in such a way as to work against the values of social equality and

equal opportunity that are valued by the America public. If the public decides that

law-enforcement and the justice system have morphed into instruments of social

control, perhaps we will find a small miracle occurring - that HR professionals

and hiring managers might actually experience a paradigm shift with regard to

their interpretation of background checks, hopefully resulting in a bit more

compassion in the hiring decisions that they make on a daily basis.


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