Portals proliferate, services lag
- By William Matthews
- Sep 11, 2001
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
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
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.