IRS.gov scores with citizens

Agency pursues an e-government policy of continuous improvement

“American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) E-Government Satisfaction Index”

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Citizen satisfaction with government Web sites dropped slightly for the first quarter of 2006, the first decrease since the beginning of 2005, according the University of Michigan’s quarterly American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey. But despite the overall decline, satisfaction with many individual sites rose substantially.

A report on the survey highlights citizens’ satisfaction with the Internal Revenue Service’s Web site, which increased its score since 2005. The IRS has been emphasizing electronic services for taxpayers. Its goal is to have 80 percent of taxpayers file online. The ACSI report is one tool the agency uses in improving its online offerings, said Susan Smote, the IRS’ director of Internet development.

“We use a variety of Web monitoring tools and respected measurement services to gauge our effectiveness, including ACSI,” Smote said. “ACSI allowed us to identify specific elements of the IRS.gov site that were underperforming and tackle our most urgent issues.” The IRS redesigned its Web site last November.

For this past quarter, the ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index showed aggregate citizen satisfaction for the 91 Web sites it measured at 73.5 out of 100, a decline of nearly 0.5 percent from a score of 73.9 measured in the fourth quarter of 2005. A score of 80 is a threshold that demonstrates exceptional commitment to citizen or customer satisfaction, according to the survey’s developers.

Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan’s National Quality Research Center, said that with continuous effort, agencies can encourage more citizens to use government Web sites to get information and conduct online transactions.

Some e-government sites showed marked improvements in customer satisfaction, including the IRS’ site, which rose five percentage points from a score of 68 to 73 points. Despite the essentially flat satisfaction score over two consecutive quarters, overall satisfaction has improved by 2.2 percent in the past year.

Several agency and department sites — including the primary Web sites of the General Services Administration, FirstGov, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service — have shown significant yearly increases in citizen satisfaction ratings, said Larry Freed, president and chief executive officer of ForeSee Results, which sponsors the e-government index.

This quarter, 14 sites or 15 percent of those measured have scores of 80 or higher. Of those sites, 12 have maintained scores of 80 or higher since they were first measured, according to the index. However, 25 sites scored 70 or below this quarter, with an average score of 65.6, survey results show.

This is not yet cause for concern, according to the authors of the ACSI report. “Citizen satisfaction with e-government has improved at a competitive pace with online private-sector sites measured by the ACSI, which is commendable given budget constraints and regulatory restrictions faced by e-government sites,” the ACSI report states.

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