Portals proliferate, services lag

State and Federal E-Government Full Report

In the past year, government agencies have put substantially more information

online and made it easier to find by creating Web portals, a Brown University

researcher says.

But agencies have been much slower to offer services online, said political

science professor Darrell West. Government agencies lag well behind the

commercial sector when it comes to Web interactivity, including the ability

to accept credit card payments.

A survey of 1,680 state and federal Web sites shows that e-government

has generally "made good progress over the past year." But privacy, security,

interactivity and "democratic outreach" remain challenges, West wrote in

his report, "State and Federal E-Government in the United States, 2001,"

which was released Sept. 10.

A new trend is for agencies to charge user fees when citizens want to

access public information via the Internet. The practice helps agencies

that are short of cash, but it "exacerbates the digital divide between rich

and poor," West wrote.

Federal agencies are more likely to charge user fees than are state

agencies. Nineteen percent of the federal sites surveyed charged fees, compared

to 12 percent of the sites in Indiana and Kansas, 9 percent in Maine and

Nebraska, and 8 percent in Maryland.

On the information side, government Web sites offer substantially more

access to publications and databases than they did a year ago: 93 percent

of the surveyed sites now provide access to publications vs. 74 percent

in 2000. And 54 percent offer access to agency databases, compared to 42

percent last year.

The development of Web portals over the past year offers "a tremendous

advantage for ordinary citizens," West said. Portals provide a central Web

location to find information and services at numerous other sites.

Agencies have also gotten better about providing such basic information

as agency telephone numbers and addresses, West said.

But in the realm of "fully executable online service delivery"—in

which transactions can be completed online—agencies made only a little

progress. This year, 25 percent of the Web sites examined offered online

services—up from 22 percent a year ago.

A third of federal agency Web sites offer some form of online service.

Among the most advanced states, the percentage is a bit higher: 41 percent

for California, 39 percent for Pennsylvania, 38 percent for Indiana, and

35 percent for Ohio, Arizona and Michigan.

The most common transaction is the ability to file taxes online. That

function is offered by 85 state and federal Web sites. Other common online

transactions include ordering publications, filing complaints, registering

or renewing vehicle registrations, and ordering hunting and fishing licenses.

Although it is common for commercial sites to allow customers to pay

for goods or services online with credit cards, that is still rare with

government sites: Only 10 percent of the sites surveyed accepted credit

card payments.

Rarer still is the use of digital signatures. Although they now are

recognized as legally binding, only six of the 1,680 sites make use of digital

signatures, the survey found.

West created a 100-point scale to measure e-government progress among

states and federal government agencies. Rankings on the scale were based

on the inclusion of 22 features on agency Web sites, which ranged from including

telephone contact numbers to offering audio and video clips. Foreign language

access, disability access, the inclusion of privacy and security policies,

a site index, transactions and the ability to pay with credit cards were

also among the elements considered.

Overall, federal Web sites fared better than state sites on the ranking

scale. Top-rated sites include the Food and Drug Administration, which achieved

a ranking of 87; the Agriculture Department, which scored 78; the Federal

Communications Commission at 76; the Department of Housing and Urban Development

with a 75; the Internal Revenue Service, which earned a 72; and the Defense

Department and the Education Department, which each earned 71.

By comparison, the top-ranked states were Indiana, 52; Michigan, 51;

Texas, 50; Tennessee, 49; Washington, 48; and California, 46.

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