Public satisfaction with government Web sites has never been higher, according to a report released Tuesday.
Survey respondents gave the Web sites a 74.1-point average (out of 100) in the E-Government Satisfaction Index, which is run by ForeSee Results in conjunction with the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index. That's better than the 68.9 average offline government agencies received in another study from ACSI released in December, though both still rank below the most recent scores for e-commerce (81.6) and e-business (79.3).
The report commended the Bush administration for beginning to address the issues of government 2.0, citing the President's Management Agenda, which stressed overhauling e-government to cut down on waste. But the report also sees promise in President Obama, saying that "for the first time, we have a truly tech-savvy president in office, one who has shown through both word and deed that he understands the power of the Internet."
While record-high ratings are good news for Web government advocates, ForeSee Results CEO Larry Freed offered some caveats. For starters, public approval numbers for e-government aren't on an inexorable climb: Satisfaction actually declined in 2007, a hit that Freed attributes to advances in Web 2.0 technology in the private sector that weren't matched on the government end. When corporations make advances online, consumers raise their expectation levels, which can be a challenge for a slow-moving e-government bureaucracy.
"When you go to SSA.gov [the Social Security Administration's Web site], you compare it to experiences you've had on Amazon.com and eBay," Freed said.
And though the 94 Web sites in the study were evaluated on the same criteria, the users frequenting them have different expectations, which could affect their ratings. The three highest-rated sites are all run by the Social Security Administration, and their older and less tech-savvy audience may be more likely to rate them higher.
Government agencies track the ratings closely, said Sheila Campbell, co-chair of the Federal Web Managers Council, which advises government techies on Web outreach.
"If we can reduce the amount of time it takes to accomplish the most basic government tasks, it could save millions of citizen hours every year," Campbell said.
The prospects for improved e-government took a hit Tuesday when Nancy Killefer, Obama's choice for chief performance officer, withdrew her candidacy. The report named Killefer in particular as a reason to believe that the "next four years could be a time of unprecedented growth and effectiveness for online government."