Some government Web sites can put their commercial counterparts to shame. The University of Michigan's quarterly American Consumer Satisfaction Index, known as ASCI, gives some government sites higher scores than commercial ones.
Among the government Web sites getting top scores are ones that focus on jobs and health, according to the ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index, which was released Monday by the university. Still, study authors say, government portals and agencies' main Web sites aren't as impressive as the jobs and health sites. "E-government does better, in general, when it has a very specific purpose and real focus," says Larry Freed, CEO of Web-site satisfaction consulting firm ForeSee Results, one of the study's partners. "Portals, sites that impose regulatory burdens, and sites with highly specialized technical audiences all face tough challenges. But it doesn't mean they can't improve."
With retirement looming over the next decade for a large number of government workers and the need to staff national and homeland security positions, researchers say, recruiting people into federal service is particularly important, and Web sites serve as a crucial tool.
The Central Intelligence Agency's careers site received an 80 on the ACSI's 100-point scale, six points higher than the national average of all goods and services measured by the index. The CIA's score is better than most commercial Web sites. The State Department's careers site shows similar strength, with a score of 79.
The government's comprehensive careers portal, USAJobs, has an even bigger job to do. It earned a respectable score of 73 while serving more than 6 million visitors a month. That's five points higher than it scored in the third quarter of 2003. "To improve a full five points in just three months is impressive," Freed says. "Their score now is comparable to similar private-sector sites we have analyzed. The [Office of Personnel Management] staff has clearly taken their site visitors' information to heart and made great strides forward in a very short period of time."
Even more impressive: government health sites, which match or outdo commercial sites. A general health site operated by the National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus, earned an 86 score, nearly matching the 88 score given E-commerce leader Amazon.com Inc. Users find government health sites include the specific types of information they want, and there's a level of specificity and detail that may be hard to find elsewhere, according to an ASCI analysis of the data. The sites get high marks for accessibility, having built navigation systems that are very similar to what users are accustomed to from commercial sites. MedlinePlus en Espanol did nearly as well as its English-language counterpart, winning a score of 84. Other government Web sites meeting or exceeding the national average include 4woman.gov, 81; AIDSinfo, 79; and Toxnet, 75.
The ACSI E-government index covers 44 sites in four categories. The sites opt to be considered, and the number volunteering is growing each quarter.