Fed Web site scores fall in customer satisfaction index

ACSI: Enthusiasm for fed sites wanes for third straight quarter

The malaise that is permeating consumer confidence is now seeping further into citizens' attitudes toward federal Web sites.

This is one of the findings of the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) E-government Satisfaction Index, released today by the University of Michigan. For the third consecutive quarter, citizen satisfaction with federal Web sites has decreased.

The aggregate score for the first quarter of 2008 is 72.4, a half-point lower than last quarter's 72.9 and a full point lower than the 2007 first-quarter score of 73.4. The latest score is also a point-and-a-half lower than the all-time high of 74 in June 2006.

"These are trying times for the American consumer," said Claes Fornell, professor and head of ACSI at the University of Michigan. "Customer satisfaction is declining overall, and the government isn't doing any better. Citizen satisfaction with e-government is now slipping like everything else."

According to the report, two possible factors are triggering the decline in citizen satisfaction: the uncertainty sparked by the change in presidential administration next year and a sharp decline in citizens' enthusiasm toward federal portals and departments' main Web sites.

"When President Bush made e-government a priority in his management agenda, we saw an improvement in satisfaction," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer at ForeSee Results and author of the report. "But there's no telling whether or not that commitment will be share by a new administration. Some government Web sites may be holding off on putting the necessary resources into improving the citizen experience until they have a better sense of whether or not they'll be able to finish what they start. Unfortunately, citizens are the big losers when e-government is in limbo."

The ACSI category of portals and department main sites suffered a decline of more than three points to 71.7 since reaching an all-time high in the second quarter of 2006. Because they serve as a portal for multiple external sources of data, portals and department main sites often face challenges in controlling site features, the report said.

One bright spot according to the index is citizen satisfaction with federal e-commerce sites. This category increased by 15 percent to 75.7, but this increase was not enough to offset declines in every other category. Freed said that this increase shows that citizens are eager for government sites to evolve from information sources to conduits for conducting business with the government.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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