E-gov: Four measures of progress

Under the E-Government Act of 2002, the Office of Management and Budget is required to report to Congress on agencies' progress in meeting each of the law's provisions. Here are some highlights from OMB's first report, which was released last week.

Privacy

The act's privacy provisions cover issues such as machine-readable Web site policies, privacy impact assessments, use of tracking technology and designation of a privacy official.

More than half of the 60 agencies reporting to OMB said they have or plan to soon have machine-readable privacy policies on their Web sites. Such policies are translated into a computer language readable by users' browsers. They alert users if a Web site's policy is not in line with the preferences set in their browsers.

According to the report, "Other agencies were undecided [and] indicated they were either examining the field or they were awaiting a recommendation from OMB on what standard to use." Although OMB does not endorse any standard, there is only one way to adopt machine-readable policies — by using the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project developed by the World Wide Web Consortium.

Agency officials are also improving their understanding of privacy impact assessments, and many plan to post the assessments on their Web sites, according to OMB's report.

Eliminating paper

The E-Government Act reauthorized the Government Paperwork Elimination Act of 1998 (GPEA), which requires agencies to offer the public the option of submitting government forms electronically.

By the end of 2003, 57 percent of all federal agency transactions were available online, with hundreds more expected to be online soon, OMB officials wrote in their report.

The law recognizes that in some cases an electronic option will not be feasible. (For example, airline travelers would not be able to complete customs forms electronically while in flight to their destinations.) OMB officials said 32 percent of government transactions will not have an electronic option.

Further, the Business Gateway e-government initiative, a Web portal that compiles business-related laws and regulations, has created an online catalog of electronic transactions to give the public access to forms that affect businesses and citizens and to help agencies manage those forms.

Accessibility, usability and archiving

The Interagency Committee on Government Information was formed in June 2003, with a June 2004 deadline for making recommendations to OMB on deriving a method for establishing standards for agency Web sites and a directory of government Web sites.

By the end of the year, the committee is expected to advise OMB and the National Archives and Records Administration on standards for categorizing and indexing government information and storing electronic records.

The committee comprises three working groups that will tackle the categorization of information, electronic records policy and Web content management.

Geospatial standards

The E-Government Act mandates that agencies use standard protocols for geographic information systems. According to OMB's report, agencies are making progress, particularly through the Geospatial One-Stop e-government initiative.

By the end of last year, 24 federal agencies had used the initiative's Geodata.gov Web portal to post more than 214 datasets. Eighteen states have also posted 213 geographic records, along with more than 2,000 records from local jurisdictions, according to the report.

Geospatial One-Stop is intended to make it easier for agencies to share geographic data, and during the next six months, officials plan to enhance the portal's capabilities. Officials are also planning to create a contract for geospatial portal components, so agencies can buy interoperable, standards-based components to use in their own portals and other applications.

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