August 1, 2006
Seventh Annual Taubman Center Study
Texas and New Jersey Are Best States for American e-Government
In their seventh annual study, researchers at Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy ranked Texas and New Jersey as the two states with the best online government services. On the federal level, FirstGov.com, a Web portal, was rated best, followed by the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Texas and New Jersey are the best states for e-government in the United States, according to the seventh annual e-government analysis conducted by researchers at Brown University. The federal portal FirstGov.gov and the Department of Agriculture 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 1,564 state and federal sites. The researchers analyzed 1,503 state sites (an average of 30 sites per state), plus 48 federal government legislative and executive sites and 13 federal court sites. Research was completed during June and July 2006. Previous e-government studies were released in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.
The survey found that citizens are being asked to shoulder more of the cost of providing online services. Twelve percent of sites charge visitors a fee to use online services, compared to only 2 percent last year.
In terms of disability access for the visually impaired, automated Bobby software, available from Watchfire Inc., found that 54 percent of federal sites and 43 percent of state sites meet the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) disability guidelines. The federal numbers are up from 44 percent in 2005, while the state numbers are up from 40 percent last year.
The study also ranked 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’s rating.
The top-ranking states include Texas, New Jersey, Oregon,
Michigan, Utah, Montana, New York, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania. The most
poorly performing e-government states are Alaska, Alabama, Wyoming and
Mississippi. The following table shows where each state ranked in 2006, with the
previous year’s ranking and score in parentheses.
Top-rated federal Web sites include the FirstGov.gov portal,
Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing and Urban Development,
Department of Commerce, Department of Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Postal
Service, Department of Education, Social Security Administration and Department
of State. At the low end of the ratings are the various circuit courts of
appeals. The following table lists the ranking of federal agencies in 2006, with
last year’s rank and 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 consistency in design, navigation and appearance among the various Web sites. Many state Web sites have inconsistent layouts and color schemes, with pages that look very different as users browse from agency site to agency site or even within a single agency site itself. This can be intimidating and overwhelming as users sometimes are not sure whether they still are on an official Web site.
Some states, such as Alaska, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana and Oregon, have remedied this problem by using a consistent template across all state agencies. Other states, such as Maine and Utah, place a consistent navigation bar on the top of every Web page, assuring visitors that they are on an official state Web site and providing easy access to other state pages.
The survey also found that many government Web sites try to place too many links on the portal or agency homepage, creating a cluttered look this is overwhelming to the visitor. Simplified, streamlined homepage designs are best. Sites that lead users to services by clicking on simple, intuitive menus are better than sites that list every link on the homepage.
Many states have inconsistent URL’s (Web addresses) for agencies. Consistent URL’s would make it easier for visitors to navigate between state agencies, since they always know they are visiting an official state Web site. Florida, for example, has some sites that end with “state.fl.us,” while others use a “.gov” ending and some end with “.org.” Michigan, meanwhile, has a consistent Web address naming scheme where all sites start with “www.michigan.gov” followed by the agency, such as “www.michigan.gov/mdch/” for the Department of Community Health. Rhode Island and Pennsylvania consistently use “.us” to end their Web addresses.
Most sites prominently display key features and services on the main page or provide links to online services. Texas, the top-rated site, has a comprehensive listing of more than 500 online services contained within state Web sites. Other states, however, do a poor job presenting their services, often burying the most useful functions of the site. The Wyoming portal page, for instance, has virtually no mention of the e-services offered by the state’s Web site, making navigation difficult. States could make their sites more user friendly by providing quick access to e-services and useful features from the main departmental/portal pages.
For more information about the results of this study, please 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.