Slow Web going
Thomas R. Temin
Recently, the Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington research organization that focuses on all levels of government, surveyed what citizens want from electronic government. According to the council's president, Patricia McGinniss, the ability to view lawmakers' voting records online ranked higher than the ability to renew driver's licenses online.
That's right. Government folks and consultants love to wax rhapsodic about grand-sounding transformational projects and online transactional government. Yet, at least according to one poll, people mostly want plain, League of Women Voters-type information when they tune into the Web. Maybe government is leading where few are following.
Several factors could explain this disconnect between the fondest hopes of chief information officers and the citizens. For one thing, few transactions people could conduct with government are available online. Some estimates put it at 1 percent.
In other words, too few services are available to make online transactions something a typical person thinks about.
Many transactions are too complex to be easily translated into a reliable online interaction with existing technology. For instance, starting a regulated business is an activity that often takes months and many meetings involving many agencies.
A third factor is that applications deployed are too difficult, cumbersome or incomplete to generate much enthusiasm. If it is easier to pick up a phone or mail something in, why should someone use an online application?
Tax return filing, as this month's cover story illustrates, is one obvious thing to do online. Nevertheless, tax filing has been slow to yield to online efforts'both at the state and national levels.
Massachusetts' efforts, as associate editor Donna Young reports, are encouraging, in part because the state wants to streamline the online filing process by turning it into a pure Web play. By contrast, other states require a third party to file or let taxpayers merely download forms to mail in.
Perhaps the Bay State, by deploying a better-than-average application, will foster greater demand for online services beyond the tax realm.
Thomas R. TeminEditorial director