Agencies up online offerings

Government agencies have put substantially more information online during the past year and made that information easier to find by creating Web portals, a Brown University researcher says.

But agencies have been much slower to offer services online, according to political science professor Darrell West. As a result, they lag well behind the commercial sector when it comes to Web interactivity, including the ability to accept credit card payments via the Internet.

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 said in a report 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 may be helpful for agencies that are short of cash, but it "exacerbates the digital divide between rich and poor," West wrote in his report, "State and Federal E-Government in the United States, 2001." West said a number of judicial Web sites charge fees for filing forms online when the same forms filed on paper are free. Federal Reserve banks also charge fees for providing access to information, and the U.S. Postal Service charges fees for electronic services.

Federal agencies are more likely to charge user fees than are states. Nineteen percent of the federal sites surveyed charged fees, compared with 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 with 42 percent last year.

The development of online 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 from many other sites.

Agencies have also gotten better about providing such basic information as agency telephone numbers and ad.dresses, West said.

But in the realm of "fully executable online service delivery," 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. "Fully executable" online services are those in which a transaction can be completed online.

One-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 online transaction is the ability to file taxes online. That function is offered by 85 state and federal Web sites. Other 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 let customers 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 are now 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 meas.ure e-government progress in the federal government and the states. 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, according to West. Top-rated sites include the Food and Drug Administration's, 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 75; and the Internal Revenue Service, which earned 72.

By comparison, the top-ranked states were Indiana, 52; Michigan, 51; Texas, 51; Tennessee, 49; Washington, 48; and California, 46.

How agencies scored

Rated on a scale from one to 100, these federal agency Web sites fared best:

Food and Drug Administration 87

Agriculture Department 78

Federal Communications Commission 76

Department of Housing and Urban Development 75

Internal Revenue Service 72

Defense Department 71

Education Department 71

Consumer Product Safety Commission 70

Small Business Administration 70

Social Security Administration 68

U.S. Postal Service 68

The lowest five scores—ranging from 24 to 38—came from federal appeals courts.

. Source: Brown University

Rising Stars

Meet 21 early-career leaders who are doing great things in federal IT.


  • SEC Chairman Jay Clayton

    SEC owns up to 2016 breach

    A key database of financial information was breached in 2016, possibly in support of insider trading, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Image from

    DOD looks to get aggressive about cloud adoption

    Defense leaders and Congress are looking to encourage more aggressive cloud policies and prod reluctant agencies to embrace experimentation and risk-taking.

  • Shutterstock / Pictofigo

    The next big thing in IT procurement

    Steve Kelman talks to the agencies that have embraced tech demos in their acquisition efforts -- and urges others in government to give it a try.

  • broken lock

    DHS bans Kaspersky from federal systems

    The Department of Homeland Security banned the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab’s products from federal agencies in a new binding operational directive.

  • man planning layoffs

    USDA looks to cut CIOs as part of reorg

    The Department of Agriculture is looking to cut down on the number of agency CIOs in the name of efficiency and better communication across mission areas.

  • What's next for agency cyber efforts?

    Ninety days after the Trump administration's executive order, FCW sat down with agency cyber leaders to discuss what’s changing.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group