Government still trails the private sector, which has more resources to devote to online innovations.
Public satisfaction with government Web sites increased slightly during the third quarter of 2008, marking the second straight quarterly improvement, according to a report released on Tuesday.
Comment on this article in The Forum.Federal Web sites received an aggregate score of 73.9 out of 100 points on the American Customer Satisfaction Index's e-government section released by the University of Michigan. That is a 1 point, or 1.4 percent, improvement from a score of 72.9 the previous quarter. The latest score was among the highest since the index was launched in 2003, nearly matching the high of 74 points in 2006.
"The increase is spread across each of the categories pretty evenly," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, which published the report. "We're seeing an increasing number of sites doing a phenomenal job meeting citizens' expectations."
He said 27 percent of the sites surveyed scored 80 or above on the index, a level that indicated superior satisfaction. This is the highest percentage of agencies to pass that threshold thus far.
Freed said the upward trend was driven by across-the-board improvements by sites in all categories: e-commerce, portals, new sites and agency home pages. But a few sites have made particularly impressive progress, he said. One of those was the General Services Administration's page.
"GSA's main Web site is a great story," Freed said. "It's up 9 points from last year and 22 points from when we first started. They're constantly working on improving; it's probably the most impressive we've seen in terms of long-term growth and improvement."
The National Center for Drug Abuse and the National Resource Conservation Service also made significant strides on their Web sites, Freed said.
Despite this progress, federal Web sites still are outpaced by their private sector counterparts, which remain ahead in terms of innovation and resources.
"The expectations from citizens for Web sites are increasing," Freed said. "The standard is higher every year. Private sites are always improving and using the latest and greatest technology. [If] you stand pat, you're going to see your scores decline."
Freed said regardless of who wins the presidential election, the next administration probably will support the e-government initiative in some form. He called for a renewed focus on giving the public easy access to sites with helpful information and services.
"The support has not waned, but the approach has been a little different," Freed said. "In the early years, there was more central budgeting and initiative. Over the years, it's been pushed out to the agencies to take more initiative."
Freed cited Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's promise to appoint a governmentwide tech czar and said he would like to see the next president name a similar "very high level" central figure whose job would be to champion dissemination of relevant and timely online information and services to the public.
"I've heard the talk of Obama appointing a chief technology officer; it's a great step, but they tend to be focused internally," Freed said. "I think there should be an equivalent position for publicly facing Web sites and providing information to the public."
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