In-Depth

State of Texas -- Comptroller of Public Accounts

These days, the number of requests for public tax information is continually rising, but the number of government workers is flat or in decline. This is among the challenges faced by developers in the Public Accounts’ Office for the State of Texas. Over a year ago, a team including Stuart Greenfield, system analyst at the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in Austin, Texas, began to look at approaches to Web-based access of the office’s information. Web access, it was hoped, could free up office workers that were inputting CICS queries to the agency’s DB2 mainframe database at the request of credit reporting agencies, banks and the like. As this was by definition public information, security was not an extraordinary concern. Established RACF security and administration software was in place.

Prior to Web-enablement of the Open Records Division’s system, clerks were required to enter up to three separate transaction codes for each query, and then cut and paste data from a mainframe window to a PC-based form letter which was printed, folded, stamped and mailed.

"We did not want to rewrite our mainframe code," said Greenfield. After exploring a number of solutions, including one that implemented a CICS gateway but required remapping routine transactions, the agency selected Amazon software from Intelligent Environments, Burlington, Mass.

While Greenfield indicated Java was inappropriate for this application ("When we started the project, you couldn’t even print out Java pages.") he didn’t rule it out for the future. However, a drawback to Java for the public sector, he noted, is browser compatibility. Besides relying on the most up-to-date of browsers, Java and its applets can place a bandwidth burden on occasional Internet users. In the case of the Open Records Division application, one significant outside information gatherer simply would not deploy Java among its user community. "Because we are a public information agency we have to offer wide public access," said Greenfield. Thus, a simple solution supporting forms and tables is preferable to a complex one.

Summarized Greenfield: "This has increased productivity" -- no small feat in an era with constant calls for less government. "We ain’t getting more people, but it’s not like our work requirements are less," he said. "Increasing productivity is good." Greenfield’s application can be viewed at open.cpa.state.tx.us/

Greenfield noted that, while it is preferable to leave some applications un-touched and un-rewritten, that is not always the case, and the agency is using PowerBuilder from Sybase Inc.’s Concord, Mass.-based Powersoft Division to redo some tax systems.

"We went through a number of iterations with vendors before deciding the Amazon product met our needs," said Greenfield, who suggests that users supply vendors with samples of the transactions they want to perform and have the vendors then prove their software can work. "We don’t have the time to evaluate too many products," he said.

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