Many govt. sites don't heed users' needs, study finds

Many govt. sites don't heed users' needs, study finds

By Richard W. Walker

GCN Staff

The pressure is on for a digital revolution.

Two weeks ago, Vice President Gore called for the creation of an electronic government that would put nearly every federal service online and give every citizen a digital key to access those services by 2003.

Gore also proposed creating a national interactive town square and placing interactive kiosks in shopping malls to make e-government available to all.

Gore's proposal comes on top of the Government Paperwork Elimination Act's more modest requirement that agencies offer the public the option of submitting all mandatory documents electronically'including the use of digital authentication systems'by October 2003.

'It's going to be fun to find out where the government is at that point,' said one federal chief information officer.

But who is monitoring the progress of e-government? No one in the government is keeping e-gov statistics, officials at the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy said.

For now, you have to look to the private sector for figures on e-government trends.

A recent study by Jupiter Communications of New York tracked and analyzed the Web sites of 28 federal agencies and the 50 states, rating the sites on functionality, technology deployment, interface quality and business model.

Jupiter researchers concluded that most government Web sites 'simply unite disparate Internet initiatives from various branches of government rather than focusing on users' needs.'

Although many government sites offer frequently asked questions sections, the answers to FAQs are mostly insufficient for users' needs, researchers said. And only a few have multilingual pages.

Researchers also found that most government sites give poor customer service. More than half never reply to e-mail inquiries and only 39 percent respond within three days.

Despite 'a relatively bland landscape in government Internet space,' researchers named a few standouts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's site is 'unequivocally the best practice in government Internet space,' researchers said, noting that the CDC offers content in Spanish, an e-mail newsletter and user polling.

The CDC site shows that government Web sites can supply services and interact with users, researchers said.

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