The News Service
Sixth Annual State and Federal e-Government Study
Utah and Maine Lead All States in Online Government Services
Brown University’s sixth annual review of digital government in the 50 states and major federal agencies ranks Utah and Maine as leading states and the White House and State Department at the top among federal sites.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Utah and Maine are at the top of the list for e-government in the United States, according to the sixth annual e-government analysis conducted by researchers at Brown University. At the federal level, the White House and the Department of the State head the list of federal sites.
Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of researchers examined 1,620 state and federal sites. The researchers analyzed 1,559 state sites (or an average of 31 sites per state) plus 48 federal government legislative and executive sites, and 13 federal court sites. They completed their research during June and July, 2005. Previous e-government studies were released in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004.
In terms of disability access for the visually impaired. Researchers used automated Bobby software from Watchfire Inc. to determine that 44 percent of federal sites and 40 percent of state sites meet the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) disability guidelines. The federal numbers are up from 42 percent in 2004, while the state numbers are up from 37 percent last year.
Researchers also studied a number of quality control issues on public sites. They used Watchfire’s WebXM to analyze each of 71 federal agency Web sites. WebXM automates the scanning, analysis and reporting of online security, privacy, quality, accessibility and compliance issues across Web sites. The research team scanned a random sample of 5,000 pages from each agency and identified online quality issues that affect the user experience, such as broken links and anchors, missing titles, missing keywords, missing descriptions, warnings and redirects and poor search functionality. Nearly every agency had problems with content, search, and design.
The study also 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 Utah, Maine, New Jersey, North Carolina, Michigan, Tennessee, Delaware, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Nevada. The most poorly performing e-government states are Wyoming, Alaska, and Alabama. The five states with the greatest improvement over last year were Mississippi, up 40 places to No. 9; North Carolina, up 28 to No. 4; Nevada, up 25 to No. 10; Idaho, up 21 to No. 15; and Michigan, up 17 to No. 5.
The following table shows where each state ranked in 2005, with the previous year’s ranking or score in parentheses.
Top-rated federal Web sites include the White House, Department of State, Department of Treasury, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, Social Security Administration, Housing and Urban Development Department, Federal Communications Commission, FirstGov (the U.S. portal), and Health and the Human Services Department. At the low end of the ratings are the various circuit courts of appeals. The following table lists the ranking of federal agencies in 2005, with last year’s rank or score in parentheses.
In the conclusion of their report, West and his research team suggest several means to improve e-government Web sites. One area where improvement is needed is the ease with which constituents can navigate through information and services on portal Web sites. One way to solve the problem would be to provide a tool bar at the top of each page. This would provide access to all online services at a central location and also give a look of uniformity to the site, making users more comfortable while navigating no matter which page the constituent might be using.
Some states provide services on their sites but do not make the services easily visible or accessible. They could solve this problem by consolidating access to all the department’s services into one database or by adding icons in the margins of relevant pages.
Few states offer users the chance to customize Web sites to their particular interests. This option would allow constituents to narrow the array of information and services that may seem overwhelming.
Many states could also create better portals by creating a visually pleasing site. Few portal sites were pleasing to the eye. Characteristically, the effectiveness and comprehensiveness of sites often waned at sites of lesser known and less well funded agencies, such as veteran’s affairs, housing, and social services. Tourism sites generally were well designed and colorful, as were economic development sites.
Federal Web sites tended to be more extensive and informative than states’ sites. In general, additional forums or interactive features would allow constituents to make better use of 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.