Study finds local governments have static Web presence

Most local governments have Web sites, but they are mostly passive brochure-ware with very little in the way of transactions, according to Donald F. Norris, director of the Maryland Institute for Policy and Research Analysis.

The institute, part of the University of Maryland’s Baltimore County campus, surveys local government IT officials and conducts focus groups among them.

“Often there’s a 17-year-old in the IT shop who’s maintaining the Web site,” Norris said. “That’s an exaggeration, but not much of one.”

The bottom line is that among towns with populations greater than 10,000, only 6 percent have online financial transactions, even though 88 percent have Web sites.

Norris presented the results of his most recent study, done in 2002, at the National Conference on Digital Research in Boston. He pointed out that only 50 percent of the roughly 3,500 survey respondents said they have sufficient IT expertise to mount true electronic government efforts. Nearly half said they lacked sufficient funds. Other reasons included lack of support from elected officials, privacy and security worries, and an unwillingness to charge citizens extra for online transactions.

Norris said the people and skills issue is a big one for the IT managers in small cities.

“In focus groups, they said e-government is a net add-on” to the continuing workload of merely maintaining Web sites and other systems. Few have done enough reengineering to where automated, online systems begin to save staff time, he said.

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