GUEST COMMENTARY—Another View
Patrick Pizzella | GovBenefits.gov: E-government vision realized
A program to connect citizens with government benefits has become a model for government
- By Patrick Pizzella, Special to GCN
- Feb 11, 2009
Since its inception nearly seven years ago, GovBenefits.gov has grown into what many consider to be one of the most successful e-government initiatives, serrving as a resource for millions of the nation’s citizens. It has also revealed lessons on the expectations citizens have of their government and the challenges of making government resources readily available.
The creation of GovBenefits.gov is a vital part of the government’s response to society’s growing need for easily accessible government information. That need has never been greater. As the Pew Internet & American Life Project concluded, “e-government is not an option, it’s a necessity.”
By way of background, GovBenefits.gov exists to simplify the process of looking for government assistance information and to determine potential eligibility for those programs. Early in his administration, President George W. Bush announced, “I want to expand the use of the Internet to empower citizens, allowing them to request customized information from Washington when they need it, not just when Washington wants to give it to them.”
This notion led to the identification of 24 presidential electronic government initiatives, which would leverage technology and make government more accessible, efficient and effective. Launched in 2002, GovBenefits.gov was proposed as an effort to provide citizens with a single point of entry to assistance programs. Managed by the Labor Department, GovBenefits.gov is a partnership of 17 federal agencies with a mission to use the Internet to provide citizens with improved, personalized access to government benefit programs.
The vast majority of Americans want -- and expect -- government information to be available on the Internet. However, citizens often prefer to use the Internet for information queries and opt to use the phone or face-to-face visits to address matters that are more personal. GovBenefits.gov strikes a balance by providing basic information with personalization. It not only connects citizens to programs they might not have been aware of, but reduces search time by serving as a one-stop portal for government benefit information.
At the time of the site’s launch, GovBenefits.gov featured 55 programs. Today, the Web site is offered in both English and Spanish and features more than 1,000 forms of assistance. The site has attracted more than 30 million visitors, resulting in over 23.4 million benefit program views.
Its growth and continued popularity can, in part, be attributed to the site’s ability to help fill the gap in the government-citizen information exchange. Prior to GovBenefits.gov, U.S. citizens using the Internet had no choice but to search through a complicated, confusing maze of Web pages. As an added measure of difficulty, they were often unable to determine which benefits they might qualify for, often wasting precious time applying for programs they were not eligible to receive. Government agencies then spent additional time reviewing these applications that did not meet the eligibility criteria. These inefficiencies and frustrations riddled the benefit communication process, creating a dire need for a new solution.
GovBenefits.gov was that solution. Its core function is a unique eligibility-screening questionnaire, composed of conditional questions that probe the visitor’s circumstances without collecting any personal identifiable information such as names or Social Security numbers. The result is a customized list of programs matching visitors’ specific needs.
A GovBenefits.gov user put it best when she said, “Now, I no longer have to hunt through unreliable information. I found out I may be eligible for 78 programs. GovBenefits.gov replaced my frown with a hopeful smile for carrying on during the most difficult time in my life.”
Additionally, GovBenefits.gov offers the ability to search by category, agency or keyword and provides users with contact and application information for all programs. This makes GovBenefits.gov not only accessible to citizens, but to intermediaries as well. Counselors, advisors, social workers and anyone in the profession of helping others can do their jobs more effectively by browsing GovBenefits.gov. This structure and these tools have helped millions quickly and easily find the benefits and assistance they need.
The future looks bright for GovBenefits.gov, with month-over-month growth in site traffic averaging 11 percent over the past fiscal year. Its technology is facilitating increasingly tailored solutions to meet citizens’ needs with Customized Connections. The Customized Connection solution utilizes GovBenefits.gov’s powerful search capabilities, pre-screening technology and infrastructure, while saving government agency resources and creating consistent benefit information. Reducing redundancy and increasing the value of those sites already in existence save users valuable time and the frustration of coming across competing information.
As the demand for information increases, the site has become a reliable tool for citizens seeking information from their government. GovBenefits.gov should continue to satisfy citizen needs as a website that is not only easy to use, but offers trustworthy 24 hour access. Today, Americans look to the Internet to learn about government resources and, by providing a personalized, trusted source such as GovBenefits.gov, citizens have a Web site they can count on.
Patrick Pizzella just concluded his service as Assistant Secretary and Chief Information Officer at the Department of Labor under the Bush Administration.
Patrick Pizzella just concluded his service as assistant secretary and chief information officer at the Labor Department under the George W. Bush administration.