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6/24/2010
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Public Skeptical Of Government Transparency Plans

The federal agency commitment to implementing the Open Government Directive is questioned by a majority of Americans according to survey results.

A majority of Americans are not convinced that the federal government will take the steps necessary to follow the Obama administration's transparency plan, according to new research.

Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed said that they don't believe agencies are serious about President Obama's mandate to be more open with citizens, known as the open Government Directive, according to the 2010 Open Government Research Report by Harris Interactive. The firm plans to release the report next week.

Many Americans do believe the government should be more transparent and engage better with its citizens, according to the survey, commissioned by cloud-based software vendor RightNow Technologies.

Ninety-six percent of respondents said the government could improve how it engages with citizens, and agreed that technology -- in particular the Web -- was a good way to do it. But they doubt the government will catch up to commercial organizations and their skill in using the Web to reach customers.

Forty-three percent of those surveyed said they think it will take the government one to five years to catch up to businesses in their use of the Web and social networks. And 22 percent said federal agencies will ever do it at all.

Those surveyed had clear ideas about how the government can use the Web to be more transparent and communicate better with them.

Seventy-three percent said that improving Web-site usability was the best way for the government to tactically engage with the public, while 52 percent said that creating an agency-branded forum or community would also help.

Those surveyed also believe that using social-networking sites like Twitter and Facebook would improve engagement (34 percent), and that agencies should leverage new mobile technologies in their transparency initiatives (32 percent).

Even as citizens are skeptical that agencies will follow the Open Government Directive, the research showed that some may not be ready for technology-based engagement anyway.

When asked how they would prefer to communicate with the federal government, 85 percent of those surveyed said they still prefer to speak to a live agent.

However, using the Web to access government services via e-mail, Web community, chat and social-networking sites also was a popular means of engagement, with 77 percent of respondents saying they would like to engage that way.

Not surprisingly, younger people were happier to engage with the government via the Web, with those between the ages of 18-34 preferring online engagement (92 percent) to the phone (87 percent).

Still, even some younger respondents are slow to take advantage of Web-based ways to interact with federal agencies. Sixty percent of those between the ages of 18-34 surveyed said they have engaged with the government online, only slightly higher than the 54 percent of overall respondents that said the same.

Harris collected data for the survey by conducting phone interviews in the U.S. with 1,007 adults, aged 18 and older, between March 11 to 14.

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