OMB puts on e-gov marketing hat

E-government initiatives site

For the federal government's e-government initiatives, Bush administration officials have

determined that marketing matters.

Officials from the Office of Management and Budget have decided that now is the time to make the big push that will get people using government services online.

Several leaders of the e-government initiatives have been marketing their services, most notably those spearheading the Internal Revenue Service's Free File initiative, but more can and should be done, said Karen Evans, OMB's administrator for e-government and information technology.

First, agency officials need to know what progress has already been made, and that is not always clear. So, OMB officials are working with the Council for Excellence in Government to assess what people know about the e-government initiatives, Evans said.

In some cases, agencies are still working to spread the word to the public, said Bob Dix, staff director for the House Government Reform Committee's Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and the Census Subcommittee, led by Chairman Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.).

"The first step is to let people know that these access points are even available," Dix said.

However, not every initiative has been collecting usage statistics in the same way. Officials will need to talk to each of the program managers, said Dave McClure, vice president for e-government at the council.

General Services Administration officials have worked to establish who is using the agency's USA Services initiative, which includes the FirstGov Web portal and the Federal Consumer Information Center (FCIC) in Pueblo, Colo. Their findings provide a glimpse of the situation agencies face.

According to M.J. Jameson, associate administrator of GSA's Office of Citizen Services, the number of people asking the FCIC for paper copies of federal information is slowly decreasing, but the number of phone calls the center receives is holding steady, she said.

Nevertheless, the usage numbers for FirstGov continue to climb. It appears that, as in the commercial world, many people are using the Web for basic information and research but still prefer to call and talk to a person when they need something more specific, Jameson said at a subcommittee hearing last month.

"You have to recognize what some of the limitations are and where are the opportunities," McClure said. "You may have a target audience, but you can't assume that 100 percent will flock to online"

resources.

Some initiatives' target audiences are easier to identify than others', Evans said. Free File and USA Services are clearly aimed at American citizens. But others, such as Regulations.gov and Grants.gov, have a core existing audience and several other potential audiences.

"That's where the challenge comes," she said. "When you put up certain types of services that the government is now offering, you don't know how people are going to use this."

McClure said the council will be working with initiative program managers to examine this issue. Beyond making sure that officials identify all possible marketing opportunities, the goal is to ensure that they don't waste resources trying to reach people who are unlikely to use the online service, he said.

"It's a matter of coming up with what a reachable target is," McClure said.

That analysis will encompass not only agency-collected information but also usage statistics from outside sources, Evans said.

Such impartial data will allow agencies "to start building a foundation

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