Although government agencies have been debuting new e-government functionality the past few months, citizen satisfaction with government portals and department home pages has gone down this quarter, dropping nearly half a point from the first quarter's score of 75.1, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released Tuesday, July 27.

The ACSI E-Government Satisfaction Index received an aggregate score of 74.7 on the 100-point scale this quarter. The score remains above last year's second quarter score of 73.6, but the decline can be attributed to the changes that agencies have been making on their websites in order to adapt to the President Barack Obama's Open Government Initiative. In some cases, these changes mean visitors have had to figure out new navigation layouts to find the services they want on the updated sites.

"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," said Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, ACSI's partner for the E-Government Index. "That is why search and navigation are consistently the top priorities for so many individual portals and department main websites."

According to the report, satisfaction with department home pages is down 1 percent this quarter to 74 overall. Also, satisfaction with nearly half of the 32 federal websites in this category has been dropping for the last three quarters in a row.

On the flip side, three categories remain on the upswing: E-commerce and transaction sites still stand as the best-performing category (82), followed by career/recruitment (78) and information/news sites (74).

Facing pressure to improve site functionality, transparency and navigation, government agencies have employed various tactics, performed assessments and sought input from users. In Rhode Island, for example, the RI.gov team implemented the Five-Second Test to solicit instant feedback from testers on the design and usability of the state's website. By addressing these top priorities, agencies can potentially save time and money, and attract more visitors to the sites that serve as gateways to online services.

Even though the overall e-satisfaction numbers may be in decline, the most recent score may only be an indication of these current transitions, which could lead to all-around improvements, said Claes Fornell, a professor at the University of Michigan and founder of ACSI.

"Although there is a slight decrease in satisfaction this quarter, it remains to be seen whether this will develop into a trend or just a blip on the radar," he said. "Satisfaction remains reasonably strong, though it still lags the private sector. Despite the slip, it is a good sign that citizen satisfaction is still higher than a year ago."