Berlin (dpa) – It’s not just the name that sounds like a fairytale: the “Elfe” project (“Simply Services for Parents”) is intended to protect parents from the paper avalanche that hits them with the birth of a child.
If you have a child, you no longer have to fill out umpteen forms with different authorities with the same data over and over again. Instead, a single online combined application for parental allowance, child allowance and birth announcement should be sufficient. In Bremen, some citizens can already use this in a pilot project.
“Elfe” is one of the flagship projects of the Online Access Act (OZG) from 2017, which provides for the digitization of 575 federal and state administration services by the end of 2022. However, with the switch to digital, paper applications should not simply become online forms. Processes would also have to be structured differently, explains Marc Danneberg, consultant for the public sector at the Bitkom digital association.
“An administrative employee would then no longer have to manually search for all the information required for a process. The system could do that for him, ”says Danneberg. “Citizens could, for example, see online how far their application has progressed and when a decision can be expected – similar to parcel delivery.” For the use of the information, technical barriers would of course also have to be raised in the sense of data protection, but this could be done without any problems. “For a vehicle registration, an authority does not have to access all the data that is available on the applicant.”
Will it succeed in turning the federal, state and local administrations inside out in just a few years? Danneberg is optimistic, but also sees a lot of work to be done. «The absolute crux of the matter is availability. A service should not just be offered as a pilot project in any municipality, but rolled out across the board. ”
It is unclear whether this will work. Of 575 administrative services, 315 and therefore more than half are already available – but that only means that they are offered in at least one municipality. Nevertheless, the Federal Ministry of the Interior sees implementation “on schedule” and is sticking to the target for 2022.
In order to master the mammoth task, the federal and state governments have divided the work. For example, Baden-Württemberg, together with the Federal Ministry of Transport, is in charge of “Mobility and Travel”, Brandenburg for “Immigration and Emigration” and Bremen for “Family and Child” – hence the “Elfe” pilot project. What one country has developed can be adopted by the other.
Sounds efficient. But German federalism is a collection of very self-confident countries. “There are countries that tend to want to do everything themselves. And there are others who, due to their smaller size, show more willingness to work together, ”says the Chairman of the National Regulatory Control Council, Johannes Ludewig, in a recently published dossier by the Federal Working Group of Municipal IT Service Providers (Vitako). The Regulatory Control Council is a body that advises the Federal Government on legislation, the reduction of bureaucracy and digitization.
Although cities and municipalities are working flat out on administrative digitization, there is still a lot of catching up to do, emphasizes Gerd Landsberg, General Manager of the German Association of Cities and Municipalities. “There is a lack of personnel capacities and specialists, there is a lack of money and there are still no clear guidelines with regard to standards and interfaces.”
According to its own information, the Federal Ministry of the Interior has spent around 180 million euros on the implementation of the Online Access Act from 2018 to the present day. In addition, there is a further three billion euros for administrative digitization as part of the federal government’s economic stimulus program for the years 2020 to 2022. These three billion euros would have to be used to support the municipalities in converting internal administrative processes, Landsberg urges. “Because the actual work has to be done on site in the cities and municipalities.”
Landsberg believes the corona pandemic will ensure significant progress. Without digitalization, operations in the municipalities could not have been maintained so well in lockdown. “Conversely, we have also seen that digital solutions in important areas, such as schools or health care, are not yet as widespread as they should have been.”
The Federal Ministry of the Interior emphasizes that relevant services were digitized with priority at the beginning of the Corona period. In just 36 days, digital applications for compensation in the event of loss of earnings due to officially ordered quarantine or due to school and daycare closings were developed. In April they went online in eleven federal states.
But digitization not only needs efficient structures, reliable software and online forms that can be used intuitively, but also legal principles. Signatures on paper are still legally required for many administrative processes, as well as personal appearance at the authorities or the submission of certain documents. Example «Elfe»: In order for registry offices to be able to transmit birth certificate data electronically to the parental allowance offices and so that parental allowance offices and statutory health insurances can exchange data electronically, a change in the law was necessary. And that is only a fraction of the innovations that are necessary to make life easier for parents-to-be – not to mention the other hundreds of administrative services.
Local authority Landsberg is therefore calling for a “digital TÜV for all new legal regulations that checks whether they can be used in the digital age”. Bitkom expert Danneberg misses further planning for the period after 2022. Because: “If the services are available, they must also be maintained and further developed. For this, too, you have to create structures and, for example, clarify whether this should be in the hands of the country that developed the relevant service, ”he says. “Administrative digitization is an ongoing task.”