The federal Web portal FirstGov.gov and the U.S.Department of Agriculture‘s home page are the most highly ratedfederal Web sites, according to the seventh annual e-governmentanalysis by Brown University.
The survey listed Texas and New Jersey as the beststates for e-government.
“FirstGov.gov was our most highly rated site this year, and theIRS Web site was rated sixth out of 61 government Web sites,” saidDarrell West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy atBrown in Providence, R.I. “There are a variety of differentfeatures that make them stand out. Those sites have a lot of onlineservices, and they take issues of privacy and security prettyseriously. They are also generally bilingual and provide languageaccessibility to non-English speakers.”
West and a team of researchers examined 1,564 Web sites; 1,503state sites (or an average of 30 sites per state), plus 48 federalgovernment sites and 13 federal court sites.
The evaluations of the Web sites were based on a number offeatures, including online publications, databases, foreignlanguage content or language translation services, advertisements,user payments or fees, disability access, privacy and securitystatements, the number of online services available, support forcredit card payments, e-mail addresses, comment forms, automatice-mail updates, PDA accessibility, and readability level.
“What we found over the course of the project is the steadyimprovement in the number of online services and how seriouslygovernment agencies are treating privacy and security,” West said.”There still remain design issues — a lot of agencies have theirown look, meaning that it’s hard for visitors to navigate thosesites. So we suggest there needs to be greater standardization ofgovernment Web sites.”
West said every year the sites with the lowest rankings seem tobe the court sites, and he doesn’t understand why they’re notgetting better.
“I think the problem is that courts are more insular, and theydon’t define public outreach as a really important mission forthem, so they don’t really have much in the way of onlineservices,” West said. “They don’t put a lot of information online.They need to get a lot better at it.”
The survey found that most of the state Web sites prominentlydisplay key features and services on the main page or they providea link to online services.
The TexasOnline portal site has a simple, effective navigationsystem and an exhaustive list of more than 500 online servicescontained within its Web sites — the most of all sites assessed,the survey found. The electronic services are divided into 15categories and organized alphabetically, allowing for quick accessto the most-wanted services, including online sales tax payment,vehicle registration renewals and searchable license recordsdatabases.
In addition, TexasOnline features audio and video clips on themajority of its Web site, as well as a Spanish version of nearlyevery page, West said.
“Overall, Texas has made a strong effort to deliver convenientaccess to a vast number of online services, thus topping ourrankings,” West said.
New Jersey’s Web site, ranked the No. 2 state Web site in thestudy, offers users the chance to personalize the portal page.Registered users of MyNewJersey can customize the site by selectingthe layout of the home page and the news content displayed, thestudy found.
New Jersey also provides easy access to online services viadrop-down boxes that direct the user to common e-services such aspaying traffic violations or searching unclaimed property.Furthermore, the site contains direct links to live online supportand a form to e-mail the governor.
Some states, the study found, do a poor job presenting theirservices, burying the most useful functions of their sites. TheWyoming portal page, for instance, has little mention of theservices offered by the state’s Web site, making navigationdifficult, according to the survey. States could make their sitesmore user-friendly by providing quick access to e-services anduseful features from the main departmental and portal pages, Westsaid.
The top-rated federal Web sites also include the Department ofHousing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, theDepartment of the Treasury, the Internal Revenue Service, thePostal Service, the Department of Education, the Social SecurityAdministration and the Department of State.