American internet users have a strong interest in using government web sites to complete many of the transactions they currently conduct off-line, according to a study conducted by Hart-Teeter Research on behalf of Accenture and the US-based Council for Excellence in Government.
The study, The New e-Government Equation: Ease, Engagement, Privacy and Protection, found that more than 60% of Americans who use the internet are interested in using e-government systems to conduct activities such as notifying changes of address, responding to a jury summons, renewing their driver's license, and obtaining a birth certificate or marriage license.
Two out of three e-government users (67%) said that conducting transactions with government is easier due to the availability of e-government sites. Almost three-quarters (74%) of the same group also said that the benefits of e-government will only grow and have a positive effect on the way government operates over the coming five to ten years.
However, the same group also expressed concerns that dealing with government agencies using the internet may compromise their privacy.
Almost half (just under 45%) of the citizens surveyed strongly agreed that if they submit personal information about themselves to government web sites, the government will be able provide them with better services.
However, nearly the same number said that if they submit personal information to government sites, it may risk the security and privacy of their personal information.
"The results of this poll bring a complex challenge into clear focus. Americans want easy, efficient and effective e-government. Just as important, they want their privacy protected," said Patricia McGinnis, CEO for the Council for Excellence in Government. "Striking that balance is the next important evolution in the e-government revolution, and will require the efforts of both government and the technology community to apply the appropriate safeguards and build trust in using government web sites."
And, according to Stanley Gutkowski, managing partner for Accenture's USA Government practice, the fact that e-government users are saying that it makes it easier and more convenient for them to conduct transactions is encouraging.
Gutkowski added, "There is clearly a high level of interest by citizens to conduct more of their transactions with governments online; If governments can show that these interactions will be secure, and personal information is protected, e-government has a chance to flourish over the next few years."
Anti-terror as well?
The study also shows that many Americans believe that e-government is a critical tool for fighting terrorism and strengthening homeland security. More than half of all Americans, along with 50% of existing e-government users, believe that investing in e-government will help homeland security by enabling government at all levels to share information, quickly coordinate responses to emergencies, and engage and inform citizens.
Half of all Americans also believe it is appropriate for the government to search its existing databases for information that could help track down and catch terrorists.
And, for the third year running, citizens cited increased government accountability as the greatest benefit of e-government.
The study also interviewed four hundred government leaders across the country, of whom almost 45% cited a lack of financial support as the main challenge to successful e-government initiatives.
"The results of this survey testify that the President's e-government initiatives are transforming government, making access to, and transactions with, the government easier," said Mark Forman, associate director of technology and e-government for the US Office of Management and Budget.
The study, conducted during February 2003, included surveys of 1,023 adults nationwide, including a sample of 202 government web site users and 400 government decision makers (comprising 200 at federal level, 100 in state government, and 100 in local government).