Dec. 8, 2003 Call it e-government. Call it faster service. Whatever you call it, the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs is far ahead of most states and territories in moving its operations online, allowing customers to avoid most of the red tape and department-hopping needed for business licenses, zoning requests, tax-clearance letters and other government services.
The DLCA is now installing new software that will simplify the process of applying for a business license online, DLCA Commissioner Andrew Rutnik said Monday.
For the last two years, DLCA has been testing software that has allowed residents to apply for business licenses, renew existing licenses and do other business at the government agency online. When the new software is installed, Rutnik said the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources and the V.I. Fire Department would be among the agencies that will be able to process business applications online.
In the past, getting a business license required a tax-clearance letter from the BIR, approval from the DLCA, and for zoning changes and a fire inspection sometimes approval from the DPNR.
Applications for business licenses were processed in a bureaucratic food fight that took anywhere from 10 days to six months. The new system, when up and ready, could take as little as one week.
"This pulls all the agencies together into one big database," Rutnik said. It's e-government at its best."
Two years ago, DLCA started moving all of its paper operations to a computer database that could be accessed online. While the process "has been a long one," Rutnik said, the DLCA now processes all of its applications for taxi, business and renewal licenses electronically.
Currently, anyone applying for a new business license can visit www.dlca.gov.vi. Following the instructions on the Web site, applicants can fill out the paperwork and pay with a credit card. The credit-card information is immediately taken off the application as a security measure, so no other government agency or DLCA officials can view the customer's card number and information. The information is stored in a secure encrypted database that is only viewable by the cashier, Rutnik said.
"Your credit-card information is only being submitted to the cashier," Rutnik said. "It is pulled off the application. We don t process the credit card until the license has been approved."
The new software is capable of filtering out information on the business-license application that is not needed by other government agencies, Rutnik said. As an example, information on the application needed by the BIR to process a tax-clearance letter is sent by email from the DLCA to the BIR automatically.
However, other information on the application such as requests for zoning permits needed by the DPNR or other information only needed by the DLCA not necessary for the BIR to obtain the tax-clearance letter is not included, Rutnik said.
Much like the U.S. Postal Services delivery confirmation on packages, applicants can also monitor the progress of their business license or renewal applications online to see which government departments have approved, denied or are still processing the request.
Although the DLCA is now processing all applications online, some government agencies are still working on installing the necessary software, Rutnik said.
"What we are looking to do is get the cooperation of our partners," Rutnik said.
The DLCA has been able to more effectively process applications and avoid lost files and paper trails that could cause problems in the past, Rutnik said. If customers or applicants call with questions on their licenses, workers can now access information by computer instead of having to search for the paper file and then call the customer back, Rutnik said.
The faster the government can process the applications, the faster it can receive payment from business licenses and other applications, he added.
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