Governments need to strengthen outreach online, study says

Governments need to strengthen outreach online, study says

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

SEPT. 18—The digital divide is deepening, not shrinking, according to a new study of federal and state government Web sites.

Assessing E-Government: The Internet, Democracy and Service Delivery by State and Federal Government, a 23-page report from Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, covers 1,813 government Web sites. The researchers scored 50 state sites and 38 federal sites on how well each met 27 criteria, such as online services or accessibility to citizens with limited English.

"There's a serious problem with the digital divide," said Darrell M. West, professor of political science, director of the Taubman Center and author of the report. "Most government Web sites aren't reaching out to all citizens. Most don't offer disability access, and very few offer foreign language translations."

Federal Web sites fared better in the study than state sites. The Consumer Product Safety Commission site scored highest with a 92 percent grade. Other high-scoring sites were those of the IRS and Treasury Department. At the bottom of the list were White House, Office of U.S. Trade Representative and National Security Council sites. The researchers singled out the White House site for offering "less than half of the features we considered important for quality citizen access."

Texas ranked first among state sites with a grade of 51 percent. "Large states have an advantage in that they can spread the cost of technology over a wider base," West said. "Texas does especially well in terms of disability access and service delivery."

The small states of New Hampshire, Delaware and Rhode Island came in 48th, 49th and 50th, respectively.

The report is posted online at www.insidepolitics.org.

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