OMB marketing blitz to get the word out on e-gov

E-gov projects likely to get marketing plans

  • Disaster Management, Homeland Security Department

  • E-Authentication, General Services Administration

  • E-Loans, Education Department

  • E-Rulemaking, Environmental Protection Agency

  • GovBenefits, Labor Department

  • Grants.gov, Health and Human Services Department

  • Integrated Acquisition Environment, GSA

  • International Trade Process and Streamlining, Commerce Department

  • Recreation One-Stop, Interior Department

  • Recruitment One-Stop, Office of Personnel Management
  • 'We don't have much of a marketing budget, so we used our existing resources wisely and let the news media work for us,' IRS' Frank Montero says of Free File.

    Rick Steele

    The Office of Management and Budget is trying to boost citizens' awareness of federal e-government services. It will focus a marketing and outreach strategy on about 10 of the 25 Quicksilver projects over the next year.

    Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for IT and e-government, said her office has nearly finished the strategies.

    'These marketing plans will include targeted outreach to particular customer segments, innovative ideas on how to increase usage, and methods on providing greater synergy among e-government offerings,' Evans said.

    Evans said OMB will give each agency project office resources to reach out to citizens. Although no final decisions have been made about how much or what kind of resources, OMB is paying for the strategy development out of the E-Government Fund. OMB received $3 million in fiscal 2004, and the House approved $5 million for the account for 2005.

    Meeting expectations

    Dave McClure, vice president for e-government at the nonpartisan Council for Excellence in Government, said the administration's plans likely will focus on how many customers are using the service and whether or not it meets their expectations.

    'Projects have been collecting data on utilization and are getting more sophisticated about what success is,' McClure said. 'This will be a more targeted approach to enhance utilization and adoption. OMB is trying to get agencies to focus more on customer use rates.'

    The council worked with OMB to develop the plans earlier this summer.

    The IRS Free File program is seen as an example of an e-government program adopting a successful outreach strategy.

    Frank Montero, an IRS senior program analyst, said the agency's advertising firm incorporated Free File into all of IRS' publications and made it the first thing the public saw on its Web site.

    'We promoted Free File as a part of the electronic file umbrella,' Montero said. 'We don't have much of a marketing budget, so we used our existing resources wisely and let the news media work for us.'

    IRS held media outreach campaigns in 2002 and 2003 that seem to have paid off. Officials reported that about 3.5 million people used the Free File application in 2004, up from 2.8 million in 2003.

    IRS also tracked customer satisfaction and taxpayer awareness through phone surveys, and set up a Web site, www.aboutefile.com, to provide more information about the service.

    'We made sure Free File was everywhere as much as possible,' Montero said. 'We also made sure we had executive buy-in, so the IRS commissioner and the Treasury secretary mentioned it in speeches.'

    Montero also said it was important to make sure the agency's internal customer service departments could answer questions about Free File.

    Martha Cotton, director of user experience for Sapient Corp. of Cambridge, Mass., said OMB needs to do more than basic marketing and look deeper into who is using the e-government applications, what their goals are and how the projects support those goals.

    'We look at this as more of an adoption strategy that centers around usability and usefulness,' she said. 'OMB needs to find these things out by talking to the end user. That is when you see the gaps and what is working and what is not.'

    One mistake the public sector often makes is forcing citizens down a specific path to online transactions instead of giving them what they want, Cotton said.

    'When I first came to Sapient and worked in the federal sector, citizen-centric meant an agency is offering the citizen some service,' she said.

    'But now the ground is shifting and agencies are looking at offering services in a more intuitive way that gives the user a level of satisfaction so they will come back.'

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