Distributed September 23, 2002
For Immediate Release

News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Second annual urban ‘e-government’ survey

City government Web sites improve but rely more heavily on user fees

Brown University’s second annual analysis of government agency Web sites in America’s 70 largest cities shows that cities have made dramatic improvements over last year. Despite improvements in online services, however, cities are relying to a greater extent on revenue-generating Web user fees and premium services.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A new study of urban “e-government” by researchers at Brown University has found that Web sites maintained by city government agencies in America’s 70 largest cities have made major strides toward placing information and services online. At the same time, however, city government Web sites rely to a greater extent than last year on user fees to finance this e-government.

Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of public policy students analyzed 1,567 Web sites on the basis of more than two dozen separate features. The team examined an average of 22 sites for each of the largest metropolitan areas nationwide as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Financial support for the project was provided by Brown University. The analysis was undertaken during June and July 2002. A previous study of urban e-government was released in 2001.

City governments have made dramatic gains in putting services online. Forty-nine percent of city Web sites offer services that are fully executable online, up from 25 percent last year. The most frequent online tasks are requesting services, requesting information, paying traffic tickets and filing complaints. Ninety-three percent of Web sites provide access to publications (up from 64 percent in 2001), and 77 percent have links to databases (up from 38 percent last year). Thirty-eight percent show privacy policies (up from 14 percent in 2001), while 25 percent have security policies (up from 8 percent last year). The most dramatic improvement was in disability access. Eighty-two percent of city government Web sites now have some form of disability access, up from 11 percent last year.

This year’s research, however, determined that cities are relying more heavily on revenue-generating Web user fees and premium services. Eleven percent of Web sites charge user fees to execute certain online services, while 2 percent have premium sections requiring payment for entry. Two percent of sites have commercial advertising. Eight percent of city government Web sites have restricted-access areas requiring user names and passwords.

The research team evaluated Web sites based on a 100-point scale, measuring the availability of information and services, the quality of citizen access, privacy, security, disability access, and foreign language translation, among other features.

The most highly ranked city governments include Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver, San Diego, Boston, Kansas City (Mo.), Dallas, Washington, D.C., Houston and Tampa. Most cities showed improvements in their scores over 2001. The lowest ranked cities in the study include New Orleans, Norfolk, Raleigh and Detroit. The table below shows the ranking for each city in 2002, with last year’s rank or score in parentheses.

City rankings for 2002

Rank   CityRating/100 PtsRank     CityRating/100 Pts
1.(11)  Minneapolis89.5 (41)36.(35)  Portland (Ore.)56.3 (33)
2.(3)  Seattle85.9 (48)37.(5)  Salt Lake City55.7 (44)
3.(8)  Denver85.3 (43)37.(49)  Philadelphia55.7 (30)
4.(1)  San Diego79.3 (53)39.(61)  Buffalo54.6 (27)
5.(16)  Boston77.6 (40)40.(64)  Rochester54.0 (26)
6.(7)  Kansas City75.0 (43)41.(38)  Fort Worth53.2 (32)
7.(54)  Dallas74.6 (28)42.(26)  Oakland53.1 (36)
8.(4)  Washington74.3 (45)43.(41)  Jacksonville52.7 (32)
9.(36)  Houston73.8 (33)44.(43)  Hartford52.4 (31)
10.(19)  Tampa72.9 (38)45.(44)  Cincinnati52.2 (30)
11.(27)  Columbus72.2 (36)46.(37)  Dayton51.8 (32)
12.(57)  San Antonio71.9 (28)47.(63)  Birmingham51.7 (26)
13.(9)  San Jose71.5 (42)48.(25)  Orlando51.4 (36)
14.(10)  Indianapolis69.9 (42)49.(29)  Atlanta51.3 (35)
14.(14)  Tacoma69.9 (40)50.(42)  Omaha50.7 (31)
16.(23)  Pittsburgh69.5 (37)51.(59)  Grand Rapids50.0 (28)
17.(55)  Phoenix67.3 (28)52.(60)  Knoxville49.9 (27)
18.(20)  San Francisco66.7 (38)53.(24)  Providence49.8 (37)
19.(6)  Virginia Beach64.6 (43)54.(50)  Greensboro49.7 (30)
20.(69)  Cleveland64.2 (21)55.(58)  W. Palm Beach49.5 (28)
21.(2)  Albuquerque62.9 (50)56.(53)  Tulsa49.4 (29)
22.(18)  Memphis62.0 (39)56.(46)  Fresno49.4 (30)
23.(22)  Baltimore61.9 (37)58.(65)  El Paso49.3 (25)
24.(52)  Milwaukee61.7 (30)59.(28)  Las Vegas49.0 (36)
25.(32)  Chicago61.3 (34)60.(70)  Albany48.7 (17)
26.(12)  Honolulu61.1 (41)61.(26)  Oklahoma City48.3 (36)
27.(34)  Charlotte60.9 (34)62.(30)  Long Beach47.3 (35)
28.(21)  Austin60.3 (38)62.(66)  Miami47.3 (25)
28.(33)  Sacramento60.3 (34)62.(62)  St. Louis47.3 (26)
30.(68)  Louisville60.2 (24)65.(40)  Syracuse46.7 (32)
31.(17)  New York59.4 (40)66.(67)  Greenville46.5 (25)
32.(15)  Richmond58.1 (40)67.(56)  Detroit46.4 (28)
33.(51)  Nashville57.9 (30)68.(47)  Raleigh45.0 (30)
34.(39)  Tucson57.5 (32)68.(48)  Norfolk45.0 (30)
35.(13)  Los Angeles57.2 (40)70.(45)  New Orleans44.8 (30)

Twelve cities improved their position in the rankings by 15 or more points over last year: Cleveland (up 49 places), Dallas (up 47), San Antonio (up 45), Louisville (up 38), Phoenix (up 38), Milwaukee (up 28), Houston (up 27), Rochester (up 24), Buffalo (up 22), Nashville (up 18), Birmingham (up 16) and Columbus (up 16). Fifteen cities fell 15 or more places from last year: Oklahoma City (down 35 places), Long Beach (down 32), Salt Lake City (down 32), Las Vegas (down 31), Providence (down 29), New Orleans (down 25), Syracuse (down 25), Orlando (down 23), Los Angeles (down 22), Raleigh (down 21), Atlanta (down 20), Norfolk (down 20), Albuquerque (down 19), Richmond (down 17) and Oakland (down 16).

All cities – even those which lost ground in the rankings – improved their scores over last year. The average score this year was 59.07, a dramatic improvement over last year’s average score of 33.9.

The poor ranking of some city government Web sites reflects the lack of online services and lack of privacy and security statements, as well as the existence of user fees, premium sites, and restricted access areas on their sites. While many sites contain phone and address contact information, publications, and databases, many do not offer such interactive and advanced features as foreign language translation, comment areas and online forums, e-mail updates, video and audio clips, broadcasts and the ability to customize sites. While most city government Web sites post e-mail addresses, only 62 percent of agencies responded to an e-mail request for information about the business hours of city agencies.

In their conclusion, West and his research team suggested several means to improve e-government Web sites. Among their recommendations:

  • The use of revenue-generating areas runs the risk of creating a “two-class” society of information haves and have-nots. Government officials must think carefully about the ramifications of reliance on for-fee services.
  • While some “restricted access” areas are valid based on the privacy of employee records, officials must be careful not to limit information in areas where there is a legitimate public right to know.
  • Make more extensive use of interactive technologies that would help citizens hold leaders accountable.
  • Publish Web sites in languages other than English, especially in areas with large non-English speaking populations.
  • Empower citizens by providing Web site search engines and areas to post citizen comments. Right now only two-thirds of government Web sites are searchable, which limits the ability of ordinary citizens to find information that is relevant to them. Also, only one-third of government Web sites have comment areas.

For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or see the full report at www.InsidePolitics.org. The appendix of that report provides e-government profiles for each of the 70 cities.