The News Service
Fifth Annual State and Federal E-Government Study
Tennessee, Maine Lead States; Social Security Leads Federal Agencies
A study of digital government in the 50 states and major federal agencies ranks Tennessee and Maine first and second among the states and FirstGov (the U.S. portal) and the Social Security Administration first and second among federal sites. The rankings are based on data gathered by researchers at Brown University during summer 2004. Tables for states and federal agencies appear below.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Tennessee and Maine are the best states for e-government in the United States, according to the fifth annual e-government analysis conducted by researchers at Brown University. FirstGov and the Social Security Administration are the most highly rated federal sites.
Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of researchers examined 1,629 state and federal sites. The researchers analyzed 1,569 state sites (an average of 31.4 sites per state) and 60 federal sites. Research was completed during June, July and August 2004. Previous e-government studies were released in 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003.
Little progress has been made in providing disability access, however. Using automated Bobby software from Watchfire Inc., researchers found that 42 percent of federal sites and 37 percent of state sites meet the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) disability guidelines. The states numbers are up from 33 percent in 2003, while the federal numbers are down from 47 percent.
Researchers found a number of quality control issues on public sites. To measure these quality problems, they used WebXM, Watchfire's enterprise platform, to analyze each of the 50 state government portals. The WebXM platform scans enterprise Web sites regardless of size or complexity, and identifies compliance, quality and risk issues. For this project the WebXM quality module was used to scan a random sample of 5,000 pages from each state and identify online quality issues that impact the user experience, such as broken links and anchors, broken links, missing titles, missing keywords, missing descriptions, warnings and redirects and poor search functionality. Nearly every state has many pages with content, search or design problems.
The study ranks the 50 states and various federal agencies on overall e-government performance. Using measures such as online services, attention to privacy and security, disability access, and foreign language translation, researchers rated the various state sites and compared their performance to last year.
The top ranking states include Tennessee, Maine, Utah, New York, Illinois, Massachusetts, Indiana, Texas, Delaware, and New Jersey. The most poorly performing e-government states are West Virginia, Mississippi, Wyoming, and Nebraska.
The five states with the greatest improvement over 2003 include Maine (up 23 places to second), Arkansas (up 21 to 16th), Delaware (up 15 to ninth), Oregon (up 15 to 19th), and Utah (up 14 to third). States that lost the most ground include South Dakota (down 13 places to 27th), Maryland, down 14 to 32nd), Nevada (down 47 to 32nd), Michigan (down 16 to 22nd), and Missouri (down 26 to 38th).
Fifth Annual State e-Government Rankings
Top-rated federal Web sites include FirstGov (the U.S. portal), Social Security Administration, Department of Education, Federal Communications Commission, Department of Agriculture, Internal Revenue Service, Federal Reserve, General Services Administration, Postal Service and the House of Representatives. At the low end of the ratings are the various circuit courts of appeals.
Fifth Annual Federal Agency e-Government Rankings
In the conclusion of their report, West and his research team suggest several means to improve e-government Web sites. One area is the way in which departments field online questions and receive feedback. Sometimes help features and e-mail addresses are hidden in a small font at the bottom of pages. This makes it more difficult to get help at the very time when Web sites are incorporating more complex applications on their sites.
Some sites include feedback and question forms instead of an e-mail address. This is certainly an improvement, as it is usually easier to find and allows users with no e-mail capabilities to send feedback to a technician. However, these people still cannot receive responses without an address of their own, and as a result Web forms are only more useful than address links for sending unidirectional feedback to the site.
One solution to this problem is to incorporate a help forum into the site, which would allow questions and responses to be publicly posted rather than sent to a mailbox. Not only would this allow people with no e-mail capabilities to be included in the help process, but it allows questions and responses to be viewed by all people, so that solutions to frequent user problems are immediately available. Agencies would benefit from following the example of those who have incorporated a live help feature to their portal Web site. Chatroom-style live dialogue with a technician is the most user-friendly way to address the questions and concerns of users.
Another area that can be improved by many states is ease of navigation. Most people will come to state portal sites in search of specific services. It can be assumed that many of these individuals are not aware of which department or agency is responsible for the service they are looking for. Portal sites should be organized by services and needs, not according to bureaucratic hierarchy. Most portal sites now have a consolidated list of online services offered by all departments. This is an important first step in restructuring state Web sites. Several states, including several ranked near the top, now include a link to this list in a toolbar that exists on nearly all of the departmental pages. This feature increases citizen usability by making it easy to access services from any point on the site.
For more information about the results of this study, contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or see the full report at www.InsidePolitics.org. The appendix of that report provides e-government profiles for each of the 50 states and the federal agencies.