EDITOR'S DESK—Commentary

Government Web sites worthy of respect

No matter how much government Web sites have improved in recent years, it’s easy to see why some government Web managers still feel like the Rodney Dangerfield of their profession. Respect doesn’t come easily — from within agencies or critics at large.

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Great .Gov Web Sites 

But the truth is, a surprising number of government Web sites routinely confound common expectations with the quality of their designs.

In fact, 24 out of 107 regularly measured government Web sites rank among the nation’s top-rated sites for user satisfaction, according to the most recent figures from the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index. And two sites produced by the Social Security Administration scored higher than any private-sector Web site measured by the ACSI.

On the other hand, the aggregate satisfaction scores for government Web sites have bounced up and down in recent quarters, after climbing steadily for several years.

And a new report, released by McKinsey & Co. earlier this month, concludes that many e-government services have not delivered on their promises.

The reasons cited by the report will sound familiar to government Web managers and many of our readers: Government Web sites suffer from an absence of ownership by senior agency management; a lack of capabilities to develop and improve Web services; and a reluctance to embrace the Web 2.0 technologies that are driving the Web experience in the private sector.

While it’s true that many government Web sites are falling short in delivering the kinds of online services citizens have come to expect, it’s also clear that a number of agencies are moving more rapidly than the McKinsey & Co. report suggests in developing innovative Web services for their constituents.

What’s striking about some of the “great government Web sites” featured in this issue’s special report by Joab Jackson is how quickly Web sites such as Data.gov and Science.gov are bringing vast reserves of government data to users -- data that would have been nearly impossible to find even a year ago. Or how agencies such as the State Department, with State.gov, are deepening the interactions with the public, using Facebook and other Web 2.0 technologies, for instance, to further diplomatic efforts.

Although these projects are still in a nascent stage of development, they nevertheless point to an entirely new type of government-style Web in the next few years —- one that reflects both the vision of the new administration as well as the groundwork laid by the architects of e-government. That deserves some respect in my book.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.


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