White House Tech Chiefs Weigh e-Gov Overhaul

The federal CTO and CIO talk about successes and challenges while pursuing sweeping changes designed to improve government data transparency.

Members of President Obama's technology team like to speak of "changing the DNA" of government. They are outspoken advocates for driving efficiencies through cloud-based technologies, and talk at length about the importance of breaking down the barriers between citizens and agencies by bringing more data online and creating a more user-friendly Web experience.

This week, they're at it again, outlining the next steps in implementing the White House's open government directive. Earlier this month, the Cabinet departments and large agencies published their open government plans, posted online at the agencies' ".gov/open" pages.

Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra and CIO Vivek Kundra praised the agencies for their work in delivering the plans, though they said that upon completing the initial evaluation, it became clear how much work is left to do.

They have posted a score card evaluating each agency's plan against the criteria spelled out in the directive. Only the Department of Transportation, the Department and Health and Human Services and NASA received perfect scores.

The rest of the agencies' plans were found lacking in at least one category. The most common shortfalls were transparency, with many agencies not going far enough to bring data online, and an omnibus category dubbed "overall plan," which rated the agencies on their satisfaction of 30 specific mandates contained in the open government directive.

Chopra and Kundra also noted that many smaller agencies, which were not subject to the mandate of the open government directive, have also taken steps to boost online access to their data and processes.

"All agencies recognize the value of breaking down long-standing barriers between the American people and their government," they said.

The administration's latest steps in pressing for open, accessible government coincide with a pair of new surveys indicating that more Americans are going online to retrieve government information, and that they are generally satisfied with the experience.

One survey, from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found that 40 of adult Internet users go online to seek information about government spending or activities. For instance, 23 percent of online adults said they had looked up the allocation of federal stimulus funds, and 22 percent said they had retrieved the text of legislation on the Internet.

"Government interactions in the information age are often fueled by data," study author Aaron Smith said in a statement. "Online citizens can -- and often do -- 'go to the source' in their efforts to monitor government activities, evaluate the impacts of new legislation and track the flow of their tax dollars."

Separately, a new study conducted by research firm ForeSee Results gauging citizens' level of satisfaction with the administration's e-government initiatives found that departments and agencies are generally doing a good job meeting their constituents' demands.

ForeSee uses a methodology developed by researchers at the University of Michigan dubbed the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a 100-point scale that the firm uses to evaluate the quality of customer service across an array of industries and government groups.

In the first quarter of 2010, government Web sites notched an ACSI score of 75.1, off just a hair from the third quarter of 2009 mark of 75.2, the highest score that ForeSee has registered since it's been measuring the e-government category.

Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, credited the administration's e-government work with driving up citizens' satisfaction rates with federal Web sites.

"The open government directive has resulted in a significant increase in satisfaction that has been successfully maintained over the last three quarters. But nobody should be resting on their laurels," Freed said in a statement. "People's expectations are also higher than ever before and private sector websites continue to set the bar high. The only way citizens will remain satisfied is if these agencies continue to measure and respond to the needs of their visitors."

Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: cloud computing, Obama, e-government, open government, ACSI

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