Television monitors are likely to replace certain face-to-face encounters in state government soon.
Under a $500,000 program, the state's Information Technology Services is testing the practicality of using video to conduct assorted business, including parole hearings and social-work certification."We're evaluating the feasibility of using the technology within the executive branch of state government," said Craig Jorgenson, assistant director for the services. "We believe it will be a part of government by September."
The state Board of Pardons tried the set-up in March, conducting hearings between its Murray offices and the Gunnison Correctional Facility.
"I think that it's a great tool and would significantly increase our productivity and efficiency," said H.L. "Pete" Haun, chairman of the Board of Pardons. "The concern about it is it's not as intimate and doesn't allow for some of the direct eye contact . . . but the quality we saw was of a very high degree and it overcame some of the earlier concerns we had."
Advocates say the arrangement would pay for itself by eliminating many travel costs, which in the case of the Utah Board of Pardons is well over $10,000 a year in mileage and per diem to Gunnison alone, not to mention "windshield" time, the many unproductive hours members spend driving around the state to meet with inmates. The state pays workers 27 cents per mile and $26 in-state per diem.
Jorgenson said the cameras and monitors being tried by the board could well stay in place if a solid case can be made for the long-term savings.
The technology, which consists of a unit that holds a camera and two television screens on each end of a link, will be tested next week in business conducted between the State Office Building and the state's Provo Regional Center. Later this spring it will be used similarly with the Ogden Regional Center.
Jorgenson said another example of how the video arrangement would be used would be in the licensing of the state's many social workers, who are now required to travel for periodic recertification trials.
The price tag on the two-way units being used by the Board of Pardons is $74,000 on each end of the hookup, but Jorgenson said the state will realize considerable savings by teaming up on a purchase with the University of Utah, which he said is considering buying 50 camera-monitor consoles this spring.
He said the state considered buying the technology two years ago but backed away because the cost at the time was in the neighborhood of $200,000 for each machine.