Survey finds federal sites, while not perfect, are showing progress

Survey finds federal sites, while not perfect, are showing progress

Progress toward electronic government and e-commerce is often described as slow, being shackled with security concerns, technological hurdles and shallow funding pools. But it has nevertheless been steady, according to a wide-ranging study by Brown University's Taubman Center for Public Policy.

The second annual report on state and federal e-government, published last fall, found notable progress in nearly all areas of e-government between 2000 and last year.

Among the categories that agency Web sites improved on were access to publications, online services, the creation of portals, the presence of privacy and security policy statements and access for disabled users.

Although agencies might not yet have achieved some of the grand plans set forth in the late 1990s, they have come a long way, said Darrell West, a Brown professor and director of the Taubman Center.

'There was a lot of optimism a few years ago, and then people started to realize how difficult it was,' West said. 'But they're making progress.'

The survey, conducted last summer, analyzed the Web sites of 45 federal executive and legislative agencies, the FirstGov portal, 13 federal courts and 1,621 state government offices.

Overall, federal sites were more complete, the survey found, even though states provide many online services and transactions. The survey found that 90 percent of federal sites were linked to databases, compared with 53 percent of state sites.

Thirty-four percent of federal sites offered some kind of electronic services, while 24 percent of state sites did. The most common electronic services were tax filing, requests for publications, complaint filing, vehicle registration and the issuing of hunting licenses.

Federal sites also surpassed those of states in disability access, 54 percent to 26 percent; the presence of a privacy policy, 81 percent to 26 percent; the presence of a visible online security policy, 56 percent to 16 percent; and the acceptance of credit card payments, 27 percent to 9 percent.

The survey found significant improvements in several areas at all levels of government. Online access to publications increased from 74 percent to 93 percent, while public access to databases jumped from 42 percent to 54 percent overall.
Despite gains, the survey concluded that government sites still trail commercial operations in tailoring services to users. Among its recommendations were the creation of more one-stop portals and the addition of search engines to sites that don't have them.

The report also suggested that government sites use consistent designs and navigation paths so that users going from one agency's site to another's travel familiar territory.

How agencies' Web sites stack up

Brown University's Taubman Center, in a study published last fall, rated the Web sites of agencies and other federal organizations. It ranked them on the availability of contact information, publications, databases, portals and the number of online services.

Sites were awarded four points for the presence of each of 22 features as diverse as foreign-language access, a lack of user fees, disability access, search capability, an option for users to receive e-mail updates and the ability to accept digital signatures and credit-card payments. The survey also awarded six points if a site was a portal or was linked to a portal, and another bonus of up to six points for the number of executable online services available'one point for each available service.

The 2001 survey included 45 executive and legislative sites, the FirstGov portal and several federal court sites. The bottom 10 sites in the survey, all federal court sites, are not listed.

How agencies' Web sites stack up

To read a report on how states are faring in e-government, go to State, local CIOs favor different routes to e-commerce.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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