The ruling coalition has pledged to rapidly digitize its administration. However, the implementation of the Online Access Act (OZG) is not progressing, even though this act is the cornerstone of the success of e-government in Germany. Good approaches at the federal level, such as DigitalService to implement agile control in administration, should be strengthened and municipalities need to take over services that have already been developed more quickly.
By the end of 2022, all 575 OZG services should be online as the central eGovernment tool of the German state for citizens and businesses. However, it has been clear for some time that this date can no longer be met. There has also been little progress in the last three months: as in March, only 80 predefined services are currently available online, such as the digital BAföG app or the online trade tax payment (OZG Dashboard, 2022).
In addition to services available nationwide, the OZG board for the 16 federal states shows the services available nationwide as well as the number of digital services offered only in individual counties or municipalities. At the end of June 2022, the leading federal state is Thuringia, with 142 services available statewide, ahead of Schleswig-Holstein with 131. Compared to March 2022, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is the leading “climber”, where with 12 new services, nationwide availability statewide has risen to 107 digital offerings. But there are also two “legs down”: in North Rhine-Westphalia, the number of services available in at least one municipality (-11) has decreased more than the number of services available nationwide (+9), so that the state has a total of 2 services less available than in March. In Lower Saxony, the negative difference at the community level was as high as 11 services that can currently be used less – or that are identified as being usable. This is because the services were likely previously reported as deployed which did not withstand a closer examination of online maturity and therefore had to be removed from the dashboard again.
Criticism of the Federal Court of Auditors
Doubts about the quality of performance measurement resulting from the visible backward steps at the state level are confirmed and reinforced by the Federal Court of Auditors (2022): Not only city information proves to be questionable. The federal government is also lagging far behind the goals of implementing OZG in “self-responsible” services, which only make up a small fraction of the OZG services. According to the auditors, many federal services reported as implemented do not meet the required maturity level 3, i.e. all partial services are available online to the user from the application to processing and approval or service execution. According to the auditors of the Federal Court of Auditors, accountable persons use the dashboard (2022) for misleading statements that obscure the actual state of implementation:
- Of the 1,532 individual administrative processes to be digitized as part of the federal government’s 115 OZG services – which mostly consist of several processes – only 58 processes have been fully and comprehensively deployed online by September 2021.
- The degree of implementation after four years of OZG was only 3.8%; According to information, about 20 percent. services were partially available online. The Federal Ministry of the Interior publishes higher figures, which also include partial implementation. The target of deploying at least 115 services nationwide by the end of 2022 is unlikely to be achieved even for this embellished representation.
The Federal Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for implementing the OZG, dismissed criticism from the Federal Audit Office, but was unable to rebut the issues raised (Federal Audit Office, 2022).
One problem is that the federal government has become bogged down in developing complex digital solutions that offer no advantage over simple, existing systems. For example, the former federal government had a blockchain-based “Self Sovereign Identity” (SSI) developed for personal online identification – which is a prerequisite for online start-ups, for example, although digital ID has the features required for online identification for years and may be further developed by more applications (Budras, 2022). So far, SSI is not working, now development is expected to stop. By prioritizing the services to be deployed under the “OZG booster”, the federal government now wants to prioritize the digitization of at least some important services by the end of the year, but it is probably too late for that.
Delayed acquisitions in municipalities
It’s not just the federal government that is lagging behind in implementing OZG services. The deficit is even greater for many state and municipal services. In addition to the slow development of digital processes and offers, a significant obstacle to the achievement of GI goals is the poorly functioning, nationwide takeover of already available municipal and state services. Even after the reduction by two services (see table) for North Rhine-Westphalia, 249 services are listed as “implemented” at the level of individual municipalities; but at the same time only 9 of these online services – in addition to the 80 nationally available services – are offered throughout the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The extremely slow adoption of online services, which have already been introduced in individual municipalities in a given federal state and throughout Germany, is at least as serious a barrier to eGovernment in Germany as the poor federal performance.
To this end, the principle of “one for all” (OfA) was in fact developed, according to which certain Länder or municipalities – often in cooperation between two states or a municipality with the state – are responsible for the development of individual OZG services and all others assume them (BMI , 2022). However, a lack of digital skills and specialists, wrongly set priorities, and perhaps even a lack of interest in municipalities have slowed the takeover so far.
Despite the EfA principle and the OZG booster, there is still no real acceleration of administrative digitization. At this point, Artificial Intelligence (AI) can play an important role: if municipalities use the same software solutions, the extensive digital services that are made available through the federal government’s web portal could be implemented with much less effort in all municipalities connected to the system controlled by AI, checking correspondence during the takeover and necessary adjustments to the relevant circumstances, thus partially replacing the manual work of IT specialists in the municipalities.
However, AI solutions have not yet been used for this purpose, and in general, the development of AI in Germany, as well as digitization, are far too slow. This is also indicated by the AI monitor calculated by the German Institute of Economics (Büchel et al., 2021), which shows a decrease in the index value by 1.3 points or 4.1%. for the current year 2022 compared to 2021 (Demary / Rusche, 2022). In 2022, both the sub-index for the economic area and the sub-index for the state framework conditions decreased, while the sub-index for the public area slightly increased.
However, partially automated and AI-controlled IT systems require more standardized software solutions in municipalities, which would be beneficial anyway: the Covid crisis showed that municipal health authorities were unable to communicate with each other due to different communication software solutions (Hüthera / Röhla, 2021).