Whitehouse.gov in Disrepair

A Brown University study confirms what many Web watchers suspected: Government websites are run about as efficiently as, well, government agencies.

A Brown University study confirms what many Web watchers suspected: Government websites are run about as efficiently as, well, government agencies.

WASHINGTON — Government agencies may finally have set up websites, but a new review concludes that nearly all of them, including whitehouse.gov, are shoddy and lack key features.

While that news won’t come as a surprise to anyone who ever tried to navigate federal bureaucracies, a Brown University study released Friday puts numbers on the problem of finding useful information online.

Of 1,716 state government sites, 36 federal sites and 61 federal court sites reviewed, only 5 percent had a privacy policy, and only 7 percent a security policy.

“I find this very worrisome,” said Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown. “Government websites by their nature need to take security very seriously, and clearly they are not letting citizens know that they are doing so.”

Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy rated sites on 27 features, including the availability of office phone numbers, feedback channels, foreign language translations and access for the disabled. They also interviewed the chief information officers for each of the 38 federal agency websites reviewed.

Texas was the state ranked the highest, news that the George W. Bush campaign was quick to applaud late Friday.

“Under Gov. Bush’s leadership, high-tech Texas has a government that is more accessible, responsive, and efficient,” said campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, has pledged to create a chief information officer for the federal government.

The worst of the federal websites included the White House, the U.S. Trade Representative and the National Security Council.

A White House spokesman declined to comment until the study could be reviewed.

A recent Wired News investigation found that many federal agencies are ignoring stern White House instructions not to use cookies on government websites.

The best of the lot at the federal level: the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of the Treasury, which scored 92 out of 100 possible points.

But that might not be saying much. A report published this week by the Government Accounting Office said the IRS website had failed to implement half of the Federal Trade Commission’s fair information principles.

One possible reason for the survey’s findings is that, unlike private companies, governments won’t go out of business if they displease their customers. Another explanation is that bureaucrats have little incentive — unless ordered otherwise by superiors — to create additional work for themselves by making direct phone numbers or email addresses available.

“The e-government revolution has fallen short of its potential,” the report says. “There are problems in terms of access and democratic outreach. E-government officials need to work to improve citizen access to online information and services.”

The study, funded by Brown University, cost about $10,000 and is the first part in a series of reports designed to measure e-government over a three-year period.

Nicholas Morehead contributed to this report.

Author: Declan McCullagh

News Service: Wired News

URL: http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,38774,00.html

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.