Report: E-Government Missing Mark

A new study of 1,813 U.S. government Web sites conducted by Brown University concluded that “government at all levels is not making full and effective use of commonly available information technology.”

On the plus side, the study, “Assessing E-Government: The Internet, Democracy, and Service Delivery by State and Federal Governments,” did find that the chief information officers of each state and the 38 federal agencies surveyed were enthusiastic in their support of e-government initiatives.

“They are convinced that information technology can improve the delivery of services to citizens, make government more efficient and reduce operating costs,” said Darrell M. West, professor of political science and director of Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions.

No Credit Cards Accepted

Although e-government is being touted as a way to let citizens do everything from applying for hunting and fishing licenses to paying taxes online, the Brown University study found that 78 percent of government Web sites offered no online services and only provided information.

The study found that some states are closer than others to the idealized version of e-government. For instance, residents in Georgia can apply for business permits and fishing, hunting and boating licenses online, and residents of Kansas can file state tax returns on the Web and ask questions of tax officials via e-mail.

However, only 53 sites — three percent of those surveyed — accepted credit cards for services. While many government services are provided free of charge, obviating the need for payments of any kind, researchers nevertheless suggested that the government is lagging behind in terms of technological innovation and called for improvement.

Citizen Demand

“Well-run, efficiently organized Web sites that offer useful services to citizens may have a significant positive effect on public spirit and the attitude of citizens toward government,” West said. “That potential certainly exists. We found, however, that e-government is still in its early stages.”

There are some positive indications, though. A survey released last month by Forrester Research predicted that between 2002 and 2005, as more citizens incorporate private sector e-commerce into their daily lives, expectations will rise and governments will be forced to respond with increased online services.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research firm also predicted that despite current funding struggles and bureaucratic inertia, governmental entities will collect $602 billion (US$) in fees and taxes online by 2006 — about 15 percent of the total.

Few Privacy and Security Statements

Government Web sites are dismally lacking when it comes to stating security and privacy policies, according to the Brown research. Only five percent of the surveyed sites displayed a security policy and only seven percent exhibited a privacy policy.

Among the states, Kansas came out on top with 21 percent of its sites showing a security policy and 17 percent stating a privacy policy. Fifteen states failed to display any kind of security policy and 10 did not offer any privacy statement.

Federal Web sites are doing slightly better at stating the government’s security and privacy policies. The survey found that 23 percent of all federal sites displayed a security policy and 35 precent exhibited a privacy policy.

Nonetheless, two reports issued earlier this week by the General Accounting Office (GAO), the independent audit arm of Congress, blasted the federal government for overwhelming weaknesses in both security and privacy.

A review of privacy standards at 65 federal Web sites found that only three percent complied with the four privacy standards recommended by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for commercial sites. Among those not in compliance was the FTC’s own site.

Another audit found that security weaknesses existed in all 24 agencies reviewed and that a broad range of critical assets and operations were at risk for fraud, misuse and disruption.

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