RealTime IT News

Citizens Happier Than Ever With e-Gov Sites

A new survey measuring consumer satisfaction has found that government Web sites earned the highest marks since it began polling in that category six years ago.

In the third quarter of 2009, e-government sites notched a 75.2 on the 100-point American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a survey matrix maintained by the researchers at the University of Michigan and used to measure how effectively government agencies and businesses in a variety of industries are meeting consumers' needs.

That mark is a 2.2 percent increase over e-government sites' ACSI score in the second quarter, and 1.8 percent higher than the year-earlier period.

"This is the largest quarter-over-quarter jump in satisfaction since the index was started six years ago, and it comes early during the administration of the nation’s most tech-savvy president," Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, the research firm that conducts ACSI e-gov polling, said in a statement.

Freed credited the Obama administration for its top-down mandate to bring government operations into the online era, but noted that the sequential increases in satisfaction are the result of a sustained effort throughout the agencies.

"While Obama can take some of the credit for getting the right team in place to support e-gov efforts, the real driving force are the people in the trenches who have been putting in years of hard work to improve federal agency websites," he said.

The previous high-water mark for government sites had come in the fourth quarter of 2008.

The score of 75.2 helped the government close the gap in customer satisfaction with private sector components of the Internet industry, led by portals and search engines with a score of 83, and e-commerce sites, which earned a mark of 82, according to the most recent ACSI polling.

It also moved government sites ahead of certain private-sector areas, such as news and information sites and personal finance.

The results comes as an encouraging sign that citizens are warming up to the practice of engaging with their government on the Internet, which has been a favorite talking point of the White House tech team.

The nine months of the Obama administration have seen the flurried launch of new Web sites and redesigns aimed at widening access to the workings of government, as well as an exuberant embrace of new media tools such as blogs, YouTube videos and Twitter feeds.

Just this morning, the Federal Communications Commission, long maligned for its byzantine Web site, announced new Web 2.0 features to guide the discussion around its controversial proposal to enact Net neutrality regulations.

In an effort to quantify the impact of high-quality government sites, the researchers noted that 86 percent of the citizens who are satisfied with a site said the Internet would be their first option to solve a problem or find an answer, placing less of a burden on more labor-intensive operations such as government call centers.

"People are just starting to realize just how much of an impact e-government initiatives can have when done well," said Dave Lewan, ForeSee Results' director of government and public markets. "Not only does increased citizen satisfaction lead to cost and time efficiencies, research actually shows that citizens that are more satisfied online are more likely to trust government overall. They're also more likely to participate in the democratic process."

The ACSI study considered 104 federal Web sites and polled nearly 300,000 citizens.