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Survey: E-Government Slowly Winning Acceptance

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By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; 6:14 PM

Telephones, letters and face-to-face contact still beat out the Internet when it comes to how Americans choose to interact with their government, according to a report released earlier this week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

But the Internet's popularity as a way for obtaining government information and services continues to grow -- percent of the Internet users who took part in the survey said they used the Internet either to obtain information from a government Web site or to obtain services from a government office or agency.

The report was based on a telephone survey of 2,925 randomly dialed participants conducted earlier this month; 63 percent of the respondents said they were Internet users.

Overall, the survey found that people who contacted the government during 2003 preferred more traditional communications means by a margin of 54 percent to 37 percent. Nearly 74 percent of Internet users who said they contacted the government during the year used the telephone, wrote letters or showed up at a government office in person.

Only slightly more than half of Internet users -- 54 percent -- said they went online to conduct business with the government, such as renewing their vehicle registrations, applying for a passport or writing a letter to a local elected official.

The study shows that agencies should not "put all their government outreach eggs into one basket," study author John Horrigan said. "It's important to see how e-mail and the Web complement the traditional means of contact. One way to get the biggest bang for your buck is to figure out how these people use the different tools."

The Pew report "validates that the direction that we're going in is the right direction. We recognize that every person wants to deal with their government in the medium that they feel comfortable with," said Karen Evans, the White House official in charge of e-government efforts.

Making it possible for citizens to obtain government services via the Internet costs much less than dealing with people on the telephone or in person, making e-government an increasingly popular tool at the federal, state and local levels, said Lisa Mascolo, managing partner at Accenture's federal government practice in Reston, Va.

Mascolo said government offices will get a better citizen response to their e-government efforts if they make their sites easier to find and navigate.

"We came to the conclusion that up to 26 percent of the people didn't really know where to find or how to find the Web sites," she said. "And once they get there, [agencies] need to encourage them to use the Web site, not just for research but to conduct their business with e-government."

Accenture contracts with multiple government agencies at all levels on e-government and other services. The company released its own e-government survey earlier this month. Their primary conclusion was that people's e-government activities mainly involve research, not actually getting services taken care of.


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