Cities Feel the Pinch

WASHINGTON, D.C. - One in three American cities reported their local economy, municipal revenues and public confidence hit the doldrums since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, while public-safety spending was up.

The results are part of a survey of 401 cities conducted by the National League of Cities (NLC) in early October.

In cities and towns of all sizes, 41 percent said their economies had weakened; 31 percent said municipal revenues had decreased; 28 percent said public confidence is down; and 31 percent said public-safety spending increased.

In cities with populations of 100,000 or more, 59 percent said their economies had weakened; 50 percent said municipal revenues had decreased; 36 percent said public confidence is down; and 54 percent said public-safety spending increased.

Among all cities, 29 percent said they had lost public-safety personnel to the National Guard or reserves.

To help defray increased costs of public safety, 22 percent of all cities and 40 percent of larger cities say they will ask for assistance from federal or state governments.

Among all cities, only 14 percent said they feel their cities are at high or moderate risk for terrorism, but more said their cities face the risk of layoffs and unemployment (37 percent) and business shutdowns (31 percent). Among larger cities, 44 percent said they felt they are at risk for terrorism, but 59 percent said they are at risk for both unemployment and business shutdowns.

In addition to updating emergency response plans, most cities reported that they have begun or plan to increase security by improving cooperation and coordination among different government bodies as well as within governments. Among larger cities, 83 percent said they will increase interdepartmental cooperation; 79 percent said they will increase intergovernmental cooperation; and 74 percent plan to improve coordination with public health and medical facilities. -National League of Cities

U.S. Gets High Score

LONDON - The World Markets Research Centre (WMRC) released the first "Global E-Government Survey" in late October to attempt to gauge which countries make the best use of electronic government .

According to the survey, the United States took top honors, with a score of 52.7. The WMRC said it created a zero- to 100-point e-government index and applied it to each nation's Web sites based on the availability of contact information, publications, databases, portals and number of online services.

The WMRC said the 52.7 score means every U.S. Web site analyzed had slightly more than half the features important for information availability, citizen access, portal access and service delivery.

The researchers analyzed 2,288 government Web sites in 196 nations, but found that, worldwide, e-government is falling short of its true potential. Some highlights of the survey include:

- Only 6 percent of the Web sites analyzed have links to a government portal.

- Worldwide, only 2 percent of government Web sites have some form of disability access.

- Six percent provide users with visible privacy policies.

- Only 33 percent of government Web sites are searchable, which limits the ability of ordinary citizens to find relevant information quickly.

- Of all the sites surveyed, only 8 percent offered services that are fully executable online.

The study's authors noted that e-government is a growing and relatively new phenomenon, which explains why service offerings are still limited. Overall, the study said, governments are obviously aware of the benefits of e-government and are taking steps to use the Internet to reach out to citizens.

"One of the weaknesses of many national Web sites has been their inconsistency in terms of design features," the study said. "Government agencies guard their autonomy very carefully, and it has taken a while to get agencies to work together to make the tasks of citizens easier to undertake."

Testing Free Speech

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in a case in October that