Citizens' satisfaction with the government websites has declined incrementally over the past three quarters, yet the latest survey shows that overall satisfaction remains near an all-time high, according to a leading index of consumer sentiment.
In a survey conducted by ForeSee Results, government websites earned a 74.7 on the 100-point American Customer Satisfaction Index, a ranking methodology developed by researchers at the University of Michigan.
That mark was down a tick from the score of 75.1 that government websites posted in the same study in the first quarter of this year.
While the index has been inching down for the past several months, the second-quarter mark remains well above the year-earlier score of 73.6.
The overall index has been weighted down by sagging satisfaction with general government portals and agency home pages. Nearly half of the 32 sites in that category saw their scores decline in the most recent survey.
"Portals and department homepages are the gateway to an agency's online services," Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, said in a statement. "The challenge is that there are so many different reasons people visit any agency or department website, and it can be hard to direct people to the information they are looking for."
Freed said that many agencies and departments are focusing on developing better search and navigation capabilities to help citizens cut through the clutter and find the information they're seeking.
Sites with a more specific focus fared better in ForeSee's study.
Sites in the e-commerce/transaction category led the field with an ACSI score of 82. Career and recruitment sites followed with a score of 78, followed by government news and information sites which checked in with a score of 74. Those categories have each posted gains over the past three quarters.
Across the federal government, departments and agencies are in the midst of a major overhaul of their online properties in response to a mandate from the White House. On his first full day in office, President Obama issued an Open Government Directive, a preliminary order calling for his administration to develop marching orders for the agencies to bring more government data online and make the information more accessible to citizens.
In April, the agencies posted their e-government plans online, and toward the end of the month, Obama's tech chiefs posted score cards rating the efforts.
Claes Fornell, the University of Michigan researcher who founded the ACSI methodology, downplayed the significance of the declining score.
"Although there is a slight decrease in satisfaction this quarter, it remains to be seen whether this is will develop into a trend or just a blip on the radar," Fornell said in a statement. "Despite the slip, it is a good sign that citizen satisfaction is still higher than a year ago."