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Before 10 a.m. Monday, September 10, 2001
News Service Contact: Mark Nickel

Taubman Center for Public Policy

Study finds improvement in state and federal ‘e-government’ Web sites

The second annual “e-government” survey, conducted by researchers at Brown University’s Taubman Center, finds significant improvement in state and federal Web sites. Analysis indicates that Indiana, Michigan, Texas, Tennessee and Washington have the top-ranking online services among the 50 states and that the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, Federal Communications Commission, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Internal Revenue Service rank most highly among federal agencies.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A second annual analysis of “e-government” conducted by researchers at Brown University has found that the Web sites and Internet services of state and federal government agencies have improved significantly during the last year, providing better citizen access to online information and services.

Darrell M. West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and a team of public policy students examined 1,680 sites and evaluated the variety and quality of the electronic services they offered. The team ranked those sites on a 100-point scale based on information and service availability, quality of citizen access, and amount of useful material that would help citizens hold leaders accountable. Of the sites evaluated, 1,621 were state government sites (an average of 32 per state), 45 were federal legislative or executive sites, and 13 were federal court sites.

“It was surprising and encouraging to see how rapidly the e-government landscape is changing and how much an individual state or agency can improve in a relatively short time span,” said West. “In the space of a year, states like Indiana, Tennessee, Maine, Arkansas and Montana have risen past 20 or more other states in terms of the quality and variety of online services they provide. States that merely maintained their status quo often lost ground in the rankings. The bar is constantly moving higher.”

West and Taubman Center researchers released their first study – an analysis of 1,813 state and federal government Web sites – in September 2000. Financial support for both projects was provided by Brown University.

Overall, citizen access to information improved dramatically, West said. Online access to publications was available at 93 percent of sites analyzed this year, compared to 74 percent last year, with improved public access to databases (54 percent of sites compared to 42 percent in 2000). Eighty-four percent of sites now provide clear e-mail addresses (compared to 68 percent last year) so that citizens may direct inquiries to the appropriate contact person.

In addition to checking that e-mail addresses were present, researchers tested responsiveness by e-mailing simple requests for information. They found responsiveness had declined. Where 91 percent of queries were answered last year, this year’s response rate was only 80 percent. Response times also declined. Last year 73 percent of responses arrived within a single day. This year only 52 percent responded within a day, and 11 percent took five days or more.

Ranking the States
(Previous year’s rank or rating in parentheses)

Rank  State   Rating    RankStateRating
2.(14)Michigan51.3(44)27.(21)South Carolina40.7(41)
7.(2)New York45.8(50)31.(42)Nebraska40.4(35)
11.(11)North Carolina44.1(45)36.(5)Illinois39.5(49)
12.(6)North Dakota44.0(48)37.(40)Georgia39.1(36)
16.(21)Massachusetts42.6(41)41.(21)West Virginia36.5(41)
18.(28)New Jersey42.4(40)43.(42)Vermont35.2(35)
19.(39)Arkansas42.3(38)44.(50)Rhode Island34.8(29)
22.(11)Iowa41.8(45)47.(28)New Mexico33.3(40)
22.(46)South Dakota41.8(33)48.(21)Alabama33.0(41)
24.(28)Connecticut41.4(40)48.(48)New Hampshire33.0(32)

Fully executable transactions for government services – filing taxes, registering automobiles, ordering hunting licenses – showed progress, but at a much slower rate. (“Fully executable” means the entire transaction can be conducted online. Downloading a mail-in form would not qualify.) Twenty-five percent of sites surveyed now offer some of those online services, up from 22 percent last year. The most frequent online services were the ability to file taxes, order publications, file complaints, register vehicles, and order hunting licenses.

A growing number of sites now offer privacy and security policy statements, Internet issues that are particularly important to the online public, according to many public opinion polls. This year, 28 percent of sites include some form of privacy policy on their site, up from only 7 percent last year. Eighteen percent have a visible security policy, up from 5 percent last year. Twenty-seven percent have some form of disability access, up from 15 percent in 2000.

The top-ranking state site was Indiana with 52.3 of the possible 100 points, followed closely by Michigan (51.3), Texas (50.9), Tennessee (49.0), and Washington (47.6). The states achieving the lowest rankings were New Hampshire (33), Alabama (33), and Wyoming (31.5).

Among the federal sites, the Food and Drug Administration scored an 87, followed by the Department of Agriculture (78), Federal Communications Commission (76), Department of Housing and Urban Development (75), and Internal Revenue Service (72). The federal sites that had the lowest ratings were provided by various Circuit Courts of Appeal.

Ranking the Federal Sites
(Last year’s figures not given because many sites were evaluated for the first time this year)

Food and Drug Administration87Federal Trade Commission56
Department of Agriculture78Department of the Interior54
Federal Communications Comm.76Department of Justice54
Housing and Urban Development75Natl. Trans. Safety Board54
Internal Revenue Service72U.S. Senate54
Department of Defense71Department of State54
Department of Education71White House54
Consumer Product Safety Comm.70Government Printing Office53
Dept. Health and Human Services70Central Intelligence Agency52
Small Business Administration70Federal Election Commission52
Department of Treasury694th Circuit Court of Appeals50
Social Security Administration68Office of Management and Budget50
Department of Transportation68Fed. Depositors Insurance Corp.48
U.S. Postal Service68Natl. Endowment for Humanities48
National Science Foundation66Supreme Court48
Library of Congress64U.S. Trade Representative48
Veterans Affairs63Natl. Labor Relations Board46
Department of Energy62National Endowment for the Arts44
Environmental Protection Agency62Fed Circuit Court of Appeals41
General Services Administration626th Circuit Court of Appeals38
Department of Labor6210th Circuit Court of Appeals36
NASA622nd Circuit Court of Appeals36
Securities and Exchange Comm.625th Circuit Court of Appeals36
Federal Reserve599th Circuit Court of Appeals36
General Accounting Office591st Circuit Court of Appeals32
Department of Commerce583rd Circuit Court of Appeals32
Equal Employment Opty. Comm.587th Circuit Court of Appeals32
U.S. House of Representatives588th Circuit Court of Appeals28
Congressional Budget Office5611th Circuit Court of Appeals24
FirstGov Portal56

The poor ranking of some government Web sites reflects the lack of information and services available on the sites and the failure of some sites to provide meaningful assistance to citizens. While the majority of sites contain phone and address contact information, email, external links, and publications, many do not offer such important features as services, disability access, foreign language translation, and search capabilities.

Financial transactions online remain a concern. While commercial sites commonly accept credit cards as payment for goods and services, only 10 percent of government Web sites analyzed accept credit cards. This was more than triple last year’s level of 3 percent, but still far behind standard commercial practice. Researchers also noted a growing concern with efforts on the part of government to help finance the cost of Web sites and services. About 2 percent of sites allowed commercial advertising on their sites (unchanged from last), while others had instituted user fees. The federal government appeared most likely to charge user fees (19 percent of federal sites).

“A growing concern of e-government is that without adequate funding and support, states will increase the use of commercial advertisements and begin charging citizens for the right to access public information in order to generate the necessary revenue,” the researchers said in their report. “The first creates potential conflicts of interest, while the latter exacerbates the digital divide between rich and poor.”

In the conclusion to their e-government report, West and his research team suggest several means to improve e-government Web sites. Among their recommendations are the following:

  • Make more extensive use of interactive technologies that would help citizens hold leaders accountable.

  • Employ consistent design and navigational principles so that users of e-government services may move among different agencies and offices without confronting radically different user interfaces, search techniques and other impediments.

  • Create “one-stop” service portals for all states and government agencies lacking such features.

  • Empower citizens by providing Web site search engines and areas to post citizen comments.

  • Government offices which offer Web sites should ensure that their staffing levels and organizational structure are geared to providing rapid, accurate and efficient response to online citizen requests for information or services.

For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163 or consult the full report at www.InsidePolitics.org. The appendix of the report provides e-government profiles for each of the 50 states.