Public Less Satisfied With Government Web Sites

By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

E-gov isn't easy in a webscape dotted with YouTube, Wikipeida, blogs and changing expectations.

Citizen satisfaction with federal government Web sites slipped in the first quarter of the year, with some data showing that the gap between the government's score and private-sector scores has started to widen.

Electronic government received a score of 73.4, out of 100, on the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index released yesterday -- down half a point from the last quarter of 2006. Comparable private-sector scores were higher, ranging from 76.5 to 80.

The government's score has been more or less flat since September 2005, indicating that private-sector Web advances, such as speedier software applications, and the increasing popularity of social networking and user-generated content are beginning to raise customer expectations in ways that the government will find difficult to match.

"The challenge for government sites is keeping up with this," said Larry Freed, president and chief executive of ForeSee Results, a Michigan company that helps Web sites develop strategies for building audiences and improving services.

Many e-gov sites operate under budgetary and staffing restraints and must provide government information and services in a responsible manner, Freed said. That makes it difficult for the government to match what consumers see and get from private-sector Web sites, he said.

Still, Freed noted, federal agencies can continue to improve search engines, which do not seem to be keeping pace with the flow of new information into Web sites, and to organize information in a way that is easy to find.

Although the overall e-gov score slipped in the past quarter, some agency Web sites received high marks in the index, which measures satisfaction with the quality of U.S. goods and services.

Two Social Security Administration Web sites scored 86 -- a benefits application and help with the Medicare prescription drug plan.

Web sites operated by the Internal Revenue Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the National Institute of Justice and GobiernoUSA, the Spanish-language portal to the government, showed significant increases in customer- satisfaction scores.

New TSP Executive Director

Gregory T. Long has been appointed chief executive for the Thrift Savings Plan, the retirement savings program for the government's workforce.

For the past year, Long, 40, has been the director of product development for the TSP. His appointment as executive director was announced yesterday by the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board.

Andrew M. Saul, the board chairman, said Long's selection by the five-member thrift board was unanimous and followed a nationwide search. "In the end, the board members came home," Saul said. Long's "blend of recent TSP service and private-sector experience is exactly the right recipe going forward," Saul said.

Before joining the TSP, Long spent seven years with CitiStreet, where he was director of marketing for the American Bar Association Retirement Funds. He also spent six years with Putnam Investments, where he was Southeast regional 401(k) sales director. Long is a graduate of St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

At the TSP, Long managed the first survey of plan participants in 15 years and recently completed an analysis of TSP participation rates and demographics from 2000 to 2005.

The previous TSP executive director was Gary A. Amelio, who resigned to join a union-owned financial services holding company.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company