E-gov proves habit-forming

E-Government poll

The number of citizens using e-government services remains fairly small, but that could be changing, according to a report released last week by the Council for Excellence in Government.

Most people visiting government Web sites are not conducting transactions but are simply looking for information, according to Hart-Teeter Research. But as people become more accustomed to using government Web sites, their interest in interactive services increases.

Just as people were nervous about using automated teller machines instead of going to a bank teller to handle transactions, many citizens are at first nervous about using the Internet rather than working with government employees at an office, said Peter Hart, chief executive officer of Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

But according to the poll results, after those first few electronic experiences, citizens are comfortable with e-government and are looking for more. "It seems to me that we are on the crest of a breakthrough here," Hart said, speaking April 14 at the release of the study sponsored by Accenture.

Poll respondents ranked the Internet as their second most popular method for communicating with government, behind in-person contact but ahead of calling on the phone or using mail. For those who have used e-government services more than once, the Internet jumps to the No. 1 position.

"The more people do this, the more they are convinced it is making their life better," said Guy Molyneux, senior vice president at Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

Citizens are particularly interested in basic functions, such as renewing a driver's license (47 percent), getting a birth certificate or marriage license (38 percent) and applying for a passport (34 percent).

"The survey should help convince the remaining doubters that e-government is here to stay," said Bruce McConnell, president of McConnell International LLC and former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget. "The message is: Try it, you'll like it."

Now it's up to federal, state and local agencies to work together to provide the kind of interactive services citizens want, said Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government at OMB.

But agencies must make their services consistent across levels of government and delivery channels, so that it truly doesn't matter how citizens interact with government, he said.

Convincing officials within agencies that e-government projects should be one of their priorities is not always easy, said Tom Hughes, chief information officer at the Social Security Administration.

But the poll results validate many of the assumptions that e-government leaders have made and could go a long way toward helping explain the need for agency-specific and governmentwide initiatives, he said.

Agencies will also continue to focus on privacy and security, and the poll results show that citizens are becoming increasingly aware of the balance between ease of use and protection, Forman said.


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