E-Government is a policy designed to make government more centered on the citizen, more focused on getting results and more innovative in the market. This strategy will utilize modernized information technology (IT) investments to help eliminate extravagant federal spending, consolidate redundant investments and to facilitate communication with the government. E-Government is being applied across agencies and within agencies to improve the quality of the government’s service to its citizens.
Incorporation of IT investments across agencies has begun with the creation of 24 E-Government projects and initiatives organized into five portfolios that serve different people. The five portfolios are Government to Citizen, Government to Business, Government to Government, Internal Efficiency and Effective ness and E-Authentication. The Government to Citizen (G2C) portfolio provides easy access to information and services for the individual person. IRS Free File, a project in the G2C portfolio, allows individuals to file their taxes electronically at no cost. As of early April 2003, over 2.4 million Americans had used IRS Free File to prepare and file taxes.
Another project, GovBenefits.gov, is a portal that pro vides individuals with the means to access information about over 400 government benefits programs. Government to Business (G2B) offers projects to help reduce the burdens businesses face. Regulations.gov. an initiative of G2B, allows businesses to learn about and comment on proposed federal regulations. A second project that G2B encompasses is Federal Assets Sales. which facilitates the finding and acquiring of federal assets. The portfolio Government to Government (G2G) is designed to ease communication and collaboration between the federal, state and local governments. An important project of G2G is Disaster Management. This initiative both simplifies and unifies the managers within different levels of government, improving response time for an emergency. E-Vital, another project of G2G, establishes a process electronically to collect, maintain, analyze. verify and share records of births and deaths.
Internal Efficiency and Effectiveness (IEE) focuses on applying the industry’s most efficient practices in the government. An impressive project in the IEE is GoLearn.gov. GoLearn.gov pro vides online training for federal employees at a fraction of what they would normally cost. Since its launch in July 2002. there are more than 45,000 employees that are registered and currently being trained positions. E-Clearance, another IEE initiative, is working to restructure and accessing security clearance for strengthen the process of people that handle highly sensitive information. The last portfolio and project, E-Authentication, is arguably the most important, because without its authentication system, the other 23 projects could not exist. E-Authentication maintains privacy by providing a secure means for persons to communicate with the federal government, yet at the same time reducing the various processes for identification verification.
Progress within the agencies is monitored with an E Government scorecard. This scorecard is done on a quarterly basis that displays the current growth and development towards satisfying E-Government goals. Aside from submitting a business case for the major investments (security, program management, cost and performance goals) and meeting target costs within ten percent for IT investments while maintaining performance levels, an agency must also be verified by the Inspector General that a department-wide IT plan exists. accredit or otherwise qualify major operational IT investments and be involved in at least three of the E Government portfolios. An agency may receive either a green, yellow or red scorecard. A green card signifies that the agency has met the above standards, a yellow card indicates that an agency has attained some of the qualifications and a red card denotes that the agency has not satisfactorily achieved the E-Government goals. The Departments of Education and Energy are two agencies that have made significant progress from September 2001, upgrading their scorecard from red to yellow. These are only two of the 26 federal agencies that have strived to improve their ratings with successful integration of E-Government.
E-Government commenced in July 2001, as one of the five strategies of the President’s Management Agenda to reform government. It was further corroborated with the passage of the E-Government Act of 2002, made law in mid-December of 2002 and led to the creation of the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA). FEA is designed to provide federal agencies and the Office of Administration and Budget a means of monitoring. analyzing, and controlling information technology investments. In the future, the FEA may possibly collaborate with other federal governments (horizontally) and with state and local governments (vertically) to further utilize IT investments.
The importance and progress of E-Government is being recognized among significant organizations. In its June 2002 report, “Benchmarking Government: A Global Perspective,” the United Nations appraised the United States. Based on the achievements during the previous year, the U.S. lead the world in E-Government. In September 2002, the Pew Foundation reported that 71 million Americans have made use of government websites, almost doubling from the 40 mil lion Americans who used them the previous March. The Council for Excellence in Government recently released a survey noting that 75 5 percent of E-Government users believe E-Government has eased the process of getting information and 67 percent prefer doing online transactions with the government.
In the coming years, E-Government will continue to strive to improve their services and the government’s efficiency as it faces new challenges. E-Government hopes to further consolidate to control IT investment costs and better implement the E-Government Act of 2002. This will also improve internet security and help to develop an effective workforce supported by mod.” ern information technology.
by Julie Miyashir
E-Government: What’s Not Happening
According to a new study by a team of researchers at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), most federal websites do not meet the government’s own accessibility standards for citizens with disabilities. A team of WPI researchers led by Assistant Professors of Management Eleanor T. Loiacono-Mello and Scott McCoy spent seven weeks examining the websites of 317 agencies and offices from all three federal branches, as well as those of the 100 largest federal contractors. The study’s results indicate 67 percent of the 417 federal sites are not fully accessible based on the government’s own federal guide lines for accessibility.
The websites were reviewed based on industry standards from the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI), which was founded in 1996 by the World Wide Web Consortium and is funded by a number of government agencies. Under the WAI there are two sets of guide lines to help designers develop accessible websites the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments.
Section 508, a subsection of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, specifically calls for all electronic and information technology purchased by the federal government to be usable by people with disabilities. The study’s results indicate that 67 percent of the federal sites do not provide fully accessible sites based on Section 508 criteria.
The WAI guidelines have three priority levels based upon the site’s accessibility-ranging from 7. signifying the most serious accessibility obstacles, to 3, signifying the least. Using these standards, the study found that only 28 percent of government sites met the minimum Priority I level checklist, and no site was completely free of Priority 2 and 3 access barriers.
Disabilities can present many obstacles to those seeking full access to the Internet and the information and applications it holds. Those disabilities that may require web design modifications include blindness, deafness and various levels of paralysis. Assistive technological devices such as Braille readers for the blind and voice-to-text translators for the deaf have improved life for many people with disabilities. However, most web content was designed only to be seen on a monitor, heard via a speaker (audio files like the familiar. “You’ve got mail”) and hand-navigated by the click of a computer mouse. People who do not have the ability to do even one of these tasks are missing a significant portion of the web’s content.
The concept of graceful degradation is a key component to a well-designed. accessible site. It allows devices like screen readers and other adaptive technology supporting people with disabilities to convey the core content and meaning, even if the original site has additional design components. It also provides for multiple options of navigation between and around web pages. For example, there could be alternate computer code providing verbal descriptions for a blind person accessing web images of paintings in the National Gallery of Art, or an embedded text transcription contained in a multimedia internet file of a Presidential speech that a person who is deaf or hard of hearing could access.
By failing to address accessibility issues, the government is neglecting not only federal law, but also a large number of its citizens and constituents with disabilities. With a relatively small investment in website accessibility, the government could ensure freedom of access to its citizens. Similar to the cost reduction realized by banks in offering online banking, federal agencies and offices could decrease their costs by facilitating e-government activities. Rather than requiring a face-to-face meeting during regular business hours. citizens could simply visit a site to access information or submit forms electronically. This would save time and money for the government as well as allow citizens, who would have a difficult time visiting a local office, obtain needed information and conduct necessary transactions.
If only minor modifications are needed to make federal sites more accessible to people with disabilities, why haven’t agencies made them? According to Loiacono-Mello, the issue is a combination of factors such as lack of awareness, time and budget constraints. “Given the economic downturn and national security concerns, accessibility has taken a back seat to overall survival. Still, it is surprising that less than half of federal agencies and contractors’ websites are accessible given the mandate laid out in Section 508.”
As echoed in President Bush’s foreword to the New Freedom Initiative, Internet accessibility is essential to “expanding educational opportunities, increasing the ability of Americans with disabilities to integrate into the workforce and promoting increased access into daily community life.” This study sharply illustrates that much more needs to be done to establish equal website accessibility for all Americans.
For a summary of the report entitled “Freedom of Access A Study of Federal Website Accessibility” contact Loiacono Mello at el******@wp*.edu