Most governments now online

Spurred by citizen demand, 84 percent of municipal governments have a Web site. But, according to a wide-ranging study released Tuesday, too few information technology workers, too little money and fast changing technology are holding back e-government.

Nearly 1,900 city and county governments — each with a population of more than 10,000 — responded to the survey conducted jointly last fall by the non-profit Public Technology, Inc.(www.pti.org) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) (www.icma.org), an advocacy group representing appointed municipal administrators.

It is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys on e-government, said ICMA President Bruce Romer, who is also Montgomery County, Md.'s chief administrative officer.

Called "Is Your Local Government Plugged In?" the study reaffirms the advance of technology in municipalities to deliver to information and Web-based transactions. The study found that relatively few municipalities offer online financial transactions, such as tax payments, although about 96 percent said they plan to offer such services.

"Technology is really a tool, and without a purpose, it's useless," said Arlington County, Va., Board Chairman Jay Fisette, one of several local officials confirming the study's findings. He also said that the Internet should be a "tool to enhance democracy."

The survey found that e-government has changed local government: 44 percent of respondents said providing such services has placed heavy demands on their employees, but 36 percent said business processes were being re-engineered. About 27 percent said their business processes were more efficient.

The study said a majority of local governments do not contract for services with e-government vendors. However, many outsource some Web-related functions, such as Web site design, hosting and operations.

The respondents said the biggest obstacles to e-government are lack of IT staff, lack of financial resources, lack of technology or Web expertise, the need to upgrade current technology, privacy issues and issues relating to convenience fees for online transactions.

Some other findings include:

    * Of those municipalities without a Web site, 70 percent of jurisdictions plan to create one within a year.

    * 51 percent employ a Webmaster or Web administrator.

    * 53 percent purchase products online.

    * 60 percent are considering developing a e-government master plan.

    * Only 20 municipalities allow paid advertising on their Web sites, and only 145 have a formal policy regarding paid advertisements.

    * In addressing the digital divide, 80 percent of respondents reported that they offer public-access terminals in municipal facilities, 45 percent work with schools to provide computer access and 23 percent provide technical support.

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