Distributed September 15, 2000
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Taubman Center for Public Policy

Analysis of 1,813 Web sites finds ‘e-government’ far short of potential

Researchers at Brown University studied the quality and effectiveness of “e-government” by conducting an e-mail survey of government information officers and an extensive content analysis of 1,813 federal and state government Web sites. Among their conclusions: State and federal governments do not make full, effective use of existing information technology.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Researchers at Brown University, conducting the first nationwide content analysis of state and federal government Web sites, have determined that government at all levels is not making full and effective use of commonly available information technology.

Darrell M. West, professor of political science and director of Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, led a team of researchers who examined 1,813 Web sites, searched each site for 27 different features, and ranked the sites on a 100-point scale. The researchers rated sites on whether they gave citizens clear information about contacting government offices, offered online services like vehicle registration or searchable records, provided high-quality access for citizens with disabilities or limited English and had policies to protect security and privacy.

West and his colleagues also conducted an e-mail survey of chief information officers in each state and at 38 federal agencies. “The CIOs were enthusiastic in their support of e-government initiatives,” West said. “They are convinced that information technology can improve the delivery of services to citizens, make government more efficient, and reduce operating costs.”

Eighty-six percent of CIOs said e-government has improved service delivery, 83 percent said it has made government more efficient, and 64 percent said it has reduced government costs.

While the majority of sites examined in the study contained basic phone and address information, e-mail, external links and publications, less than half offered important features like citizen services, disability access, foreign language translation, search capabilities, an index, and technical help. The poor ranking of some government Web sites reflects a lack of information and services and the failure of some sites to provide meaningful assistance to citizens.

“Well-run, efficiently organized Web sites that offer useful services to citizens may have a significant positive effect on public spirit and the attitude of citizens toward government,” West said. “That potential certainly exists. We found, however, that e-government is still in its early stages.”

Of the Web sites assessed, 1,716 were state government sites (an average of 34 per state), 36 were federal legislative or executive sites, and 61 were federal court sites. Among the results of the content analysis:

  • 78 percent of sites delivered no online services (only 5 percent delivered more than one);
  • 5 percent of state and federal Web sites showed some form of security policy;
  • 7 percent of sites had a privacy policy;
  • 15 percent of Web sites offered some form of disability access;
  • 4 percent offered foreign language translation features.

A statistical analysis of state government Web sites demonstrated that the best predictor of high rankings on the 100-point scale was population size. States with small populations or small economies appeared to have difficulty achieving the economies of scale necessary to implement technological initiatives. The top-ranking states were Texas, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania, while Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire ranked lowest:

Texas51California42 New Mexico40
Minnesota50Virginia42 Tennessee40
New York50Wisconsin42 Wyoming40
Pennsylvania50Alabama41 Oklahoma39
Illinois49Indiana41 Arizona38
Kansas48Massachusetts41 Georgia36
North Dakota48Mississippi41 Montana36
Florida47South Carolina41 Colorado35
Missouri47 Utah41 Hawaii35
Oregon47 West Virginia41 Nebraska35
Iowa45 Arkansas40 Vermont35
North Carolina45 Connecticut40 Nevada33
Washington45 Kentucky40 South Dakota33
Idaho44 Louisiana40 New Hampshire32
Michigan44 Maryland40 Delaware31
Alaska43 Maine40 Rhode Island29
Ohio43 New Jersey40

Among the federal sites, agencies with clearly defined constituencies tended to have the highest-ranked Web sites. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and Department of the Treasury all achieved a 92-point ranking in the index. The three that had low ratings were the National Security Council (25), the U.S. Trade Representative (34) and the White House (42):

Consumer Product Safety Commission92General Services Administration67
Internal Revenue Service92U.S. House of Representatives67
Department of the Treasury92Department of Commerce59
Department of Agriculture84Department of Interior59
Department of Education84Department of State59
Fed Communications Commission84Department of Transportation59
Department of Justice76Dept. of Health and Human Services59
Federal Election Commission76National Transportation Safety Board59
Housing and Urban Development76Congressional Budget Office50
Securities and Exchange Commission76Equal Employment Opp’t. Commission50
Small Business Administration76Office of Management and Budget50
Department of Defense67U.S. Senate50
Department of Energy67Thomas50
Department of Labor67U.S. Postal Service50
Department of Veterans Affairs67The White House42
Environmental Protect Agency67U.S. Trade Representative34
Federal Trade Commission67National Security Council25

In the conclusion to their study, West and his research team suggested four steps government information officials should take to improve their e-government web sites:

  • Improve web site organization and structure;
  • Bring state legislative and judicial sites up to the standard of the executive branch;
  • Post all phone, address, and email contact information;
  • Increase web site accessibility for the disabled and non-English speakers.

The researchers found major inconsistencies in the quality of the Web sites within states, within specific agencies and within branches of government. They concluded that greater uniformity and clear standards for content would greatly improve the quality and efficiency of e-government.

For more information about this study, contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163. The full report is available on the Web at www.InsidePolitics.org.