By Shane Peterson, News Editor

Researchers found that greater uniformity and standards are required to improve the efficiency of e-government.

While lots of debate surrounds just how long it will take for e-government to arrive, Brown University researchers decided to take a more rational approach: They wanted to find out where e-gov is today.

The researchers, in their first effort in a three-year project dedicated to e-government, studied 1,813 government Web sites and found that 78 percent of the sites delivered no online services, only two percent delivered more than three services and large numbers had no privacy policies.

"The thing that surprised me the most was that, despite all the public concern about privacy and security, government Web sites still have a long way to go to address those issues," said Darrell West, a professor of political science and director of Browns Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, who authored the report. "I would have thought that government sites would have been further along than they apparently are."

Details, Details

The study evaluated Web sites on 27 features, such as: availability of office phone numbers, online databases, external links to other sites, audio clips, video clips, subject indexes, disability access, the use of digital signatures, acceptance of credit card payments, search capabilities, chat rooms, automatic e-mail updates, push technologies and personalization features.

Texas took first place with a score of 51, followed by Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania, which all scored a 50. Illinois, with a score of 49, rounded out the top five. Kansas (48), North Dakota (48), Florida (47), Missouri (47) and Oregon (47) made up the rest of the top 10 states. At the bottom were Rhode Island (29), Delaware (31) and New Hampshire (32).

Researchers found that large states ranked more highly in this study than small states, but attributed this to the fact that larger states, due to economies of scale, were able to spread out the cost of maintaining a top-tier Web site.

According to the report, state rankings were based upon an index for each Web site based on 12 important features -- phone contact information, addresses, publications, databases, foreign language access, privacy policies, security policies, an index, disability access, services, e-mail contact information and search capabilities.

Researchers used the index to measure the presence of these features on each Web site and then multiplied the score by 8.4 to convert it to a scale running from 0 (having none of these features) to 100 (having all 12 features).

Good News, Bad News

The Taubman Center report, "Assessing E-Government: The Internet, Democracy and Service Delivery by State and Federal Governments", assessed 1,716 state government Web sites, 36 federal government legislative and executive sites and 61 federal court sites. Researchers studied an average of 34 Web sites for each individual state.

West said the team of researchers found that no state employed a

consistent or standard design across their Web site system, adding that this was confusing and did not give the Web system a feeling of coherence. The researchers also found that several sites did not contain a phone number or address and many more had no e-mail contact information.

"It struck me that, from a citizen standpoint, contact information is fundamental," West said. "Thats what citizens need to know. Often, when they visit a Web site, they just want to know a phone number, an address or an e-mail contact. Far too many sites were lacking in those regards."

West said researchers sent out e-mail surveys to CIOs in all 50 states and 38 CIOs at the federal level and got responses from 37 CIOs. The CIOs surveyed were "remarkably upbeat" about e-government, he said, adding that their enthusiasm came from e-governments potential to cut costs and improve efficiency.