...the U.S. is not the leader in e-Government...at least according to a study released last week by the Brookings Institution. However, we do rank third, but we are "falling behind other countries in broadband access, public-sector innovation and implementation of the latest interactive tools to federal Web sites".
Two other articles I read this morning also got me thinking about where we stand as a nation with digital government information: "Old-school Recordkeeping Meets the Digital Age" and "Government Data and the Invisible Hand". The first article made me feel quite frustrated with our lack of digital preservation progress, especially after reading this quote:
"...lacking a statutory prescription for maintaining electronic records, most agencies print and file [records] as they would paper documents, according to a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office...Under current regulations, NARA does not require agencies to maintain records in their native formats. So for now, many agencies still print e-mail messages and file the paper versions.Although the filing process is relatively easy, the practice has a major weakness: It eliminates the searchability of digital documents". (Gee, ya think?!)
Envisioning all those emails being printed by government agency employees makes me think of Google's April Fool's joke: the "Google Paper" service!
I hope the next President and his administration will take the issue of e-government and digital preservation/authentication very seriously. Obama and McCain have touched on the issue a bit, including Obama's vague vision of online government transparency:
"I want people to be able to know, today, this issue is going on...Today, President Obama talked about his proposal for $4,000 student college-tuition credits. It’s going to be going to this congressional committee, these are the key leaders in the House and Senate who are going to be deciding on the bill, here are the groups that support it, you should contact your congressman. The more that we can enlist the American people to stay involved, that’s the only way we can move an agenda forward."
The second article touches on this issue as well, and urges the next Presidential administration to "embrace the potential of Internet-enabled government transparency [by reducing] the federal role in presenting important government information to citizens". A profound statement, but read the rest of their argument as stated in the abstract:
"Today, government bodies consider their own websites to be a higher priority than technical infrastructures that open up their data for others to use. We argue that this understanding is a mistake. It would be preferable for government to understand providing reusable data, rather than providing websites, as the core of its online publishing responsibility.
Rather than struggling, as it currently does, to design sites that meet each end-user need, we argue that the executive branch should focus on creating a simple, reliable and publicly accessible infrastructure that exposes the underlying data. Private actors, either nonprofit or commercial, are better suited to deliver government information to citizens and can constantly create and reshape the tools individuals use to find and leverage public data. The best way to ensure that the government allows private parties to compete on equal terms in the provision of government data is to require that federal websites themselves use the same open systems for accessing the underlying data as they make available to the public at large".
This makes sense if you think of it from the context of all the mashups, RSS feeds, and other interactivity with web content that exists. The rest of the article makes some other interesting points and counterarguments, such as
"A government data provider can provide a digital signature alongside each data item. A third party site that presents the data can offer a copy of the signature along with the data, allowing the user to verify the authenticity of the data item, by verifying the digital signature, without needing to visit the government site directly".
Easier said than done? Is the "digital signature" they talk about the same as GPO Digital Authentication?
We are making some progress in e-Government and digital preservation of government information but we need to do better. Like Obama said, we can start by contacting our congressmen to voice our concerns and suggestions for improvement on e-Gov initiatives and digital preservation...because I don't know about you, but I sure don't want the government to use "Google Paper".
The Pew Internet and American Life Project has a new survey Home Broadband Adoption 2008 (PDF, 31 pages) that says "Adoption stalls for low-income Americans even as many broadband users opt for premium services that give them more speed."
NextGov looks at the report in relation to e-government initiatives. (E-Government's Tough Nut, by Allan Holmes, Tech Insider NextGov, July 3, 2008.) Some of the problems for a government wanting to interact with citizens online is that many citizens cannot or will not be able to do so. The articles picks the relevant statistics from the Pew report: the percentage of low-income Americans who have a broadband Internet connection dropped from 28 percent to 25 percent; of those that use the slower dial-up connections, almost two-thirds said they had no desire to change to broadband; 27 percent of Americans have no Internet access, with most of those being either elderly or low-income; only 10 percent of the non-Internet users have any desire to become wired. As Holmes says:
These are the hard-core resisters - and there are millions of them. That means if government wants to move ahead with providing more electronic services - including services that may require faster and more robust connections that broadband provides - a large portion of Americans may just not care. And these resisters are exactly the demographics that government tends to serve.
Nextgov reports that the Bureau of Indian Affairs is free to reconnect itself to the Internet, thanks to a Washington D.C. District Court ruling earlier this month.
Interior allowed to reconnect to Internet, by Gautham Nagesh, Nextgov, May 21, 2008.
District Judge James Robertson granted on May 14 motions filed by [Deparment of the] Interior requesting that the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of Hearings and Appeals, the Office of the Special Trustee, and the Office of Historical Trust Accounting be allowed to reconnect their networks to the Internet.
The BIA network was ordered to shut down in 2001 amid accusations of poor data security in the ongoing Cobell v. Kempthorne class action case.
Security questions remain, however.
[Judge] Robertson acknowledged that Interior’s IT security may still be inadequate. “The congressional and inspector general reports indicating that the Interior Department, overall, continues to receive failing grades on its IT report card are troubling, but I have no authority to act in response to them, nor do I have any colorable suggestion that the declarations before me … were made in bad faith,” he wrote.
As of this writing, the BIA site has not been fully restored. According to Interior chief information officer Michael Howell, it is expected to take a couple of months for the BIA to reconnect.
Recent statistics released by the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) show that consumer satisfaction with federal government websites and e-government in general have fallen in the first quarter of 2008 as compared with the final quarter of 2007. The score represents the third quarter of decline in consumer satisfaction in a row and is the lowest level of consumer satisfaction with e-government websites in three years.
There are a couple of possible factors in the decline. Consumers seem to be dissatisfied that government websites are not evolving into more than information dumps. Consumers want to see government websites that allow them to do business online, to take care of required paperwork, and to control their experiences of the website -- which is something that many commercial websites allow, at least on a limited scale. So far, that is not happening with government websites as much as consumers expect.
Another factor: presidential candidates on the campaign trail are mentioning transparency in electronic government and improving citizens' experience of e-government either minimally or not at all. Consumers aren't getting the sense that e-government is a priority, or even a secondary interest, among any of the presidential candidates.
Not sure how many of you already know about this NextGov.com website, but I just found out about it and I think it's only been around for a year. It's a spin off of Government Executive.com and provides "coverage and commentary on the management of information technology in the federal government". I'm also enjoying their Tech Insider blog.
Take a look at NextGov's recently posted news article - "Public satisfaction with e-government lowest since 2005":
"The dip in scores is due to several factors, including uncertainty about the upcoming presidential election and administration transition...rather than reflecting an actual decline in service,...the dip in scores more likely reflects users' rising expectations. For the first time, government has to keep up with the private sector in terms of service levels. They are just not used to moving at the same pace, with the same focus and intensity as the private sector."
Have you visited FDA.gov lately? *swoon*
According to the FDA, they redesigned their home page because, "In a nutshell, we listened to you. We tested the usability of our Web site by asking our key audiences".
This site should serve as a model for other government agency websites to follow, in my humble opinion. The content avoids jargon and everything is structured in a way that makes it so easy to scan and find what you need.
While updating my Twitter account recently, I noticed that womenshealth.gov created their own Twitter account and added me to their network. Kudos to the government agencies who are jumping on the Web 2.0 bandwagon and getting their information out to the community!
That got me wondering what other government agencies have created Twitter accounts, so I did some hunting and found a previous FGI blog entry and an article from CNET News stating that NASA wants to tackle Web 2.0 initiatives in order to "save itself from turning into a dinosaur in the Internet age". It took awhile, but I finally found the official NASA Twitter account, which I stumbled upon via the NASA Edge website and their Twitter page.
And of course, FGI is on Twitter as well!
If you find any other government agencies using Twitter, please post a comment to let everyone know.
[Editor's note 6/5/09: I deleted the link to Ron Paul's twitter account as it was not actually from Ron Paul. Thanks Erin for alerting us!]
Yesterday, ALA submitted a statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, "E-Government 2.0: Improving Innovation, Collaboration, and Access", addressing the critical yet unacknowledged role public libraries play in delivering E-government services to the American people. Witnesses included:
- Karen S. Evans, Administrator, Office of Electronic Government and Information Technology , Office of Management and Budget (PDF)
- John Lewis Needham, Manager, Public Sector Content Partnerships , Google, Inc. (PDF)
- Ari Schwartz, Deputy Director , Center for Democracy and Technology (PDF)
- Jimmy Wales, Founder , Wikipedia (PDF)
All of the witnesses had interesting things to say, and Schwartz's testimony included mention of a just-released report from the CDT and OMB Watch called, "Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Important Government Information Cannot Be Found Through Commercial Search Engines."
I really hope that the committee members hear both the great advantages that e-government can have for citizens AND the great need for much more financial support to public libraries and other organizations on the front line of e-government services. The great fallacy of new Web technologies and social media is that these tools will allow governments, libraries and other public service organizations to save money and cut physical service points. YES, e-government helps get services into citizens' hands, BUT these new technologies also necessitate MORE spending on public service points. What agencies (and libraries) seem to think is that if they have a Web service, then they don't need a physical service. But, like IM in libraries, you can't just cut hours of your service point. Instead, you need MORE staff to be able to handle the Web service and the inevitable increase in service requests (both in-person and online).
"Libraries strongly support the E-government Act, since it has enhanced access to government information. However, since its enactment, public libraries are often the only organizations that can help individuals interact with government agencies and access E-government services...
Libraries have a critical role in E-Government not only as portals to access, but also organizing and categorizing information and providing the necessary tools and expertise to provide community service. Librarians provide the front line reference service that informs the public how to access and evaluate government information through both physical and virtual collections and how to train people in the use of electronic resources. Libraries help the public become information literate...
Public libraries are open to taking on the challenge of E-government initiatives, yet the library community has seen little collaboration or support from federal agencies for the significant increase in services public libraries provide on their behalf...
-- Lynne Bradley, Director of ALA's Office of Government Relations
Analysis of e-Government from the Taubman Center for Public Policy, Brown University at www.insidepolitics.org/egovt07int.pdf.