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Before 10 a.m. Monday, September 10, 2001
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel
Taubman Center for Public Policy
Study finds improvement in state and federal ‘e-government’ Web sites
The second annual “e-government” survey, conducted by researchers at Brown University’s Taubman Center, finds significant improvement in state and federal Web sites. Analysis indicates that Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee and Washington have the top-ranking online services among the 50 states and that the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Federal Communications Commission, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Internal Revenue Service rank most highly among federal agencies.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A second annual analysis of “e-government” conducted by researchers at Brown University has found that the Web sites and Internet services of state and federal government agencies have improved significantly during the last year, providing better citizen access to online information and services.
Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of public policy students examined 1,680 sites and evaluated the variety and quality of the electronic services they offered. The team ranked those sites on a 100-point scale based on information and service availability, quality of citizen access, and amount of useful material that would help citizens hold leaders accountable. Of the sites evaluated, 1,621 were state government sites (an average of 32 per state), 45 were federal legislative or executive sites, and 13 were federal court sites.
“It was surprising and encouraging to see how rapidly the e-government landscape is changing and how much an individual state or agency can improve in a relatively short time span,” said West. “In the space of a year, states like Indiana, Tennessee, Maine, Arkansas and Montana have risen past 20 or more other states in terms of the quality and variety of online services they provide. States that merely maintained their status quo often lost ground in the rankings. The bar is constantly moving higher.”
West and Taubman Center researchers released their first study – an analysis of 1,813 state and federal government Web sites – in September 2000. Financial support for both projects was provided by Brown University.
Overall, citizen access to information improved dramatically, West said. Online access to publications was available at 93 percent of sites analyzed this year, compared to 74 percent last year, with improved public access to databases (54 percent of sites compared to 42 percent in 2000). Eighty-four percent of sites now provide clear e-mail addresses (compared to 68 percent last year) so that citizens may direct inquiries to the appropriate contact person.
In addition to checking that e-mail addresses were present, researchers tested responsiveness by e-mailing simple requests for information. They found responsiveness had declined. Where 91 percent of queries were answered last year, this year’s response rate was only 80 percent. Response times also declined. Last year 73 percent of responses arrived within a single day. This year only 52 percent responded within a day, and 11 percent took five days or more.
Ranking the States
Fully executable transactions for government services – filing taxes, registering automobiles, ordering hunting licenses – showed progress, but at a much slower rate. (“Fully executable” means the entire transaction can be conducted online. Downloading a mail-in form would not qualify.) Twenty-five percent of sites surveyed now offer some of those online services, up from 22 percent last year. The most frequent online services were the ability to file taxes, order publications, file complaints, register vehicles, and order hunting licenses.
The top-ranking state site was Indiana with 52.3 of the possible 100 points, followed closely by Michigan (51.3), Texas (50.9), Tennessee (49.0), and Washington (47.6). The states achieving the lowest rankings were New Hampshire (33), Alabama (33), and Wyoming (31.5).
Among the federal sites, the Food and Drug Administration scored an 87, followed by the Department of Agriculture (78), Federal Communications Commission (76), Department of Housing and Urban Development (75), and Internal Revenue Service (72). The federal sites that had the lowest ratings were provided by various Circuit Courts of Appeal.
Ranking the Federal Sites
The poor ranking of some government Web sites reflects the lack of information and services available on the sites and the failure of some sites to provide meaningful assistance to citizens. While the majority of sites contain phone and address contact information, email, external links, and publications, many do not offer such important features as services, disability access, foreign language translation, and search capabilities.
Financial transactions online remain a concern. While commercial sites commonly accept credit cards as payment for goods and services, only 10 percent of government Web sites analyzed accept credit cards. This was more than triple last year’s level of 3 percent, but still far behind standard commercial practice. Researchers also noted a growing concern with efforts on the part of government to help finance the cost of Web sites and services. About 2 percent of sites allowed commercial advertising on their sites (unchanged from last), while others had instituted user fees. The federal government appeared most likely to charge user fees (19 percent of federal sites).
“A growing concern of e-government is that without adequate funding and support, states will increase the use of commercial advertisements and begin charging citizens for the right to access public information in order to generate the necessary revenue,” the researchers said in their report. “The first creates potential conflicts of interest, while the latter exacerbates the digital divide between rich and poor.”
In the conclusion to their e-government report, West and his research team suggest several means to improve e-government Web sites. Among their recommendations are the following:
For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or consult the full report at www.InsidePolitics.org. The appendix of the report provides e-government profiles for each of the 50 states.