State Rolls Out Online Govt Chat Line

State Rolls Out Online Govt Chat Line

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- State residents in need of government services can "chat" about them round the clock in real time on Utah's Web site.

Officially open this week, the new online service offered at is the first of its kind in the country, said the state's chief information officer Val Oveson.

In development for 10 months, the service is an education for the state's own employees, who are having to get a quick tutorial about the appropriate place to refer inquiries.

The link on the state Web site is in the upper right hand corner of the screen titled, "24/7 Live Help."

Oveson chats nightly with Utah residents, sending immediate links to different agencies depending on the questions.

A lot of the visitors, so far, are computer users in "E-government" or multimedia disciplines curious about the new service, he said.

"It's generated a lot of interest from government watchers as well," Oveson said.

Gov. Mike Leavitt hopped on the service anonymously last week to test it out, as did his spokeswoman Natalie Gochnour.

The result?

"It worked," she said. "I got the help I needed."

The service, which will ultimately involve customer service representatives from every state agency, debuted unofficially last week as top officials tried to work through any glitches.

On Tuesday, the service became official and is also accompanied by other new features on the freshly redesigned state Web site, including citizen polls that will change frequently and provide immediate results.

As an example, Wednesday's poll question asked participants if they knew the identity of their state senator.

By early afternoon, 137 had said yes, 64 indicated no and four had no answer.

Residents who planned to attend some of the large Fourth of July celebrations also got tips on the state's Web site regarding directions, the heaviest traffic times and general cautionary tips.

Oveson said the enhanced portal is designed to better meet the needs of residents who want to learn more about the workings of state government or desire service but don't know who to call.

The state's network managers for the Web site, Utah Interactive, said the online chat service grew out of feedback from focus groups.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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