Studies slam state, city government Web sites as second-rate

Studies slam state, city government Web sites as second-rate

By Wilson Dizard III and

Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

State and city governments fail to use the Web to reach out effectively to residents, two new studies have concluded.

States fall short in using the Web to serve the breadth of their populations, and cities' sites generally don't provide interactive services, the recent reviews found.

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 a variety of government Web sites in each of the 50 states and 97 federal sites on how well each met 27 criteria, such as online services and accessibility to residents 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.'

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.

Major U.S. cities generally are stuck in the first generation of Web page design, according to a private study of electronic government in the 26 largest cities.

'We have not yet approached the concept of a virtual city hall or a virtual courthouse,' said Kay Cecil Spearman, president of Spearman, Welch & Associates, an electronic-commerce consulting firm in Fort Worth, Texas.

'Cities aren't doing very well,' Spearman said. Most of their sites are about five years behind those of the private sector in sophistication, she said.

Generally, cities run what she called Level 1 sites that simply display information. Very few have built Level 2 sites that let residents conduct transactions such as paying for permits.

Spearman's study analyzed the Web sites of 26 cities, active during May and June, based on seven categories: advertising, messaging, ordering, permits, payments, publishing and home page or overall site design.

Seattle's Web site ranked No. 1, followed by the sites for Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Los Angeles; Portland, Ore.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Austin, Texas; San Diego; San Antonio and Indianapolis. Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore; El Paso, Texas; Memphis, Tenn.; and Philadelphia, in descending order, were ranked at the bottom.

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