Is e-government valuable to citizens?

After almost a decade of working on e-government, officials in countries worldwide are looking for ways to figure out if their efforts are making a difference for citizens.

According to a recent study by Accenture that examined the global arena, many governments have managed to provide a basic level of e-government services, from information for research to self-service transactions.

However, governments scoring at the top of the survey are undergoing a period of re-examination, said Stephen Rohleder, group chief executive for Accenture's government operating group. Government officials are realizing that they need to evaluate the services they are providing online to determine whether those services are truly meeting citizens' needs. They also need to find a mechanism to continuously check whether they are even providing the correct services, he said.

"E-government is the fuel that will propel agencies to become high-

performing organizations," he said.

In the United States, Office of Management and Budget officials have been moving in that direction for some time. Bush administration officials recently decided to commission a study on how to get more people to use cross-agency e-government initiatives, said Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and information technology at OMB.

U.S. officials have worked closely with e-government officials in Canada, Mexico and other countries, knowing that there are many lessons that they can share, she said.

"They are always self-examining and so are we," she said. "We are trying to capitalize and learn [from] each other."

OMB officials have developed several tools to measure the performance of

e-government and IT initiatives, including the Performance Reference Model, a part of the federal enterprise architecture. Administration officials have also developed a tool to measure the effectiveness of all government programs, called the Program Assessment Rating Tool.

E-government officials are trying to merge the two, Evans said. As more projects go through PART evaluations during the annual budget cycle, examiners and Evans' office are working to make sure that the performance metrics for IT complement metrics in place for entire programs, she said.

Accenture also has a tool that OMB officials are considering. The Public Sector Value Model looks at two forms of citizen value: outcomes and cost-effectiveness. Scoring high on outcomes means that an agency or service is meeting citizens' needs and providing the services citizens want. However, it is just as important to achieve those outcomes as efficiently as possible so that more services can be provided, Rohleder said.

"If you believe that driving value to citizens and businesses is the No. 1 item [that governments should focus on], then you can really drive down and develop outcomes that matter," he said.

The Council for Excellence in Government is OMB's partner on the e-government usage study, and a big part of that study is figuring out how to better serve citizens. Because it focuses on whether services make differences in citizens' lives, the Accenture tool is something that could help agencies move toward better performance, "especially in finding greater value in tighter budgets," said Patricia McGinnis, president and chief executive officer of the council.

High-performance governments aren't afraid to discard practices that aren't working, and the current re-examination must dig deeper than the surface level, Evans said. All of these tools will help officials get to the heart of the programs and initiatives, she said.

"All of us have the same goal.... All of us who are in this are trying to put together good services that focus on the citizens," she said. "A lot of this is getting us to focus on how are we going to measure the value to the citizens and quantifying that in real dollar amounts."

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