Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University

Analysis of 1,813 Web sites finds 'e-government' far short of potential Click for Full Report

Researchers at Brown University studied the quality and effectiveness of "e-government" by conducting an e-mail survey of government information officers and an extensive content analysis of 1,813 federal and state government Web sites. Among their conclusions: State and federal governments do not make full, effective use of existing information technology.

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Researchers at Brown University, conducting the first nationwide content analysis of state and federal government Web sites, have determined that government at all levels is not making full and effective use of commonly available information technology.

Darrell M. West, professor of political science and director of Brown's Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, led a team of researchers who examined 1,813 Web sites, searched each site for 27 different features, and ranked the sites on a 100-point scale. The researchers rated sites on whether they gave citizens clear information about contacting government offices, offered online services like vehicle registration or searchable records, provided high-quality access for citizens with disabilities or limited English and had policies to protect security and privacy.

West and his colleagues also conducted an e-mail survey of chief information officers in each state and at 38 federal agencies. "The CIOs were enthusiastic in their support of e-government initiatives," West said. "They are convinced that information technology can improve the delivery of services to citizens, make government more efficient, and reduce operating costs."

Eighty-six percent of CIOs said e-government has improved service delivery, 83 percent said it has made government more efficient, and 64 percent said it has reduced government costs.

While the majority of sites examined in the study contained basic phone and address information, e-mail, external links and publications, less than half offered important features like citizen services, disability access, foreign language translation, search capabilities, an index, and technical help. The poor ranking of some government Web sites reflects a lack of information and services and the failure of some sites to provide meaningful assistance to citizens.

"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."

Of the Web sites assessed, 1,716 were state government sites (an average of 34 per state), 36 were federal legislative or executive sites, and 61 were federal court sites. Among the results of the content analysis:

A statistical analysis of state government Web sites demonstrated that the best predictor of high rankings on the 100-point scale was population size. States with small populations or small economies appeared to have difficulty achieving the economies of scale necessary to implement technological initiatives. The top-ranking states were Texas, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania, while Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire ranked lowest:

TX 51% UT 41
MN 50 WV 41
NY 50 AR 40
PA 50 CT 40
IL 49 KY 40
KS 48 LA 40
ND 48 MD 40
FL 47 ME 40
MO 47 NJ 40
OR 47 NM 40
IA 45 TN 40
NC 45 WY 40
WA 45 OK 39
ID 44 AZ 38
MI 44 GA 36
AK 43 MT 36
OH 43 CO 35
CA 42 HI 35
VA 42 NE 35
WI 42 VT 35
AL 41 NV 33
IN 41 SD 33
MA 41 NH 32
MS 41 DE 31
SC 41 RI 29

Among the federal sites, agencies with clearly defined constituencies tended to have the highest-ranked Web sites. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and Department of the Treasury all achieved a 92-point ranking in the index. The three that had low ratings were the National Security Council (25), the U.S. Trade Representative (34) and the White House (42):

Consum Prod Safety 92% Gen Service Admin 67
Internal Rev Service 92 US House 67
Dept of Treasury 92 Dept Commerce 59
Dept of Agriculture 84 Dept Interior 59
Dept of Education 84 Dept State 59
Fed Commun Comm 84 Dept Transportation 59
Dept of Justice 76 Health/Hum. Services 59
Fed Elec Comm 76 Natl Trans Safety 59
Housing/Urban Dev 76 Cong Budget Office 50
Sec And Exch Comm 76 Eq. Opp Employ Com 50
Small Bus Admin 76 Off. Manage/Budget 50
Dept Defense 67 Senate 50
Dept Energy 67 Thomas 50
Dept Labor 67 US Postal Serv 50
Dept Vet Affairs 67 White House 42
Env Protect Agency 67 US Trade Rep 34
Fed Trade Comm 67 Natl Security Council 25

In the conclusion to their study, West and his research team suggested four steps government information officials should take to improve their e-government web sites:

The researchers found major inconsistencies in the quality of the Web sites within states, within specific agencies and within branches of government. They concluded that greater uniformity and clear standards for content would greatly improve the quality and efficiency of e-government.

For more information about the results of this study, please contact Darrell West at (401) 863-1163. The full report is available on the Web at www.brown.edu/Departments/Taubman_Center/polreports/egovtrelease00.html.