Iowa, on the other hand, needs the revenue, said Dan Combs, director of digital government. The state has released an RFP to solicit what he calls "Web-site sponsorship."

"We were given the charge by the Legislature this past year to look at other options for generating income from the states portal," said Combs, adding that, due to a wrinkle in the Legislatures mandate, the only option that didnt require getting legislative approval was looking for some kind of sponsorship.

The decision to pursue online advertising is one of necessity for Iowa, said Combs, because the state doesnt have the budget surpluses that other states enjoy to fund e-gov strategies.

The lack of funding is also hitting local jurisdictions as they struggle to put services online in response to increased demands from their constituents.

"Economically, its well worth experimenting with," said Steve Steinbrecher, CIO of Contra Costa County, Calif., the states sixth largest county, adding that Web development, the roll out of Web applications and the maintenance of those applications are all extremely expensive.

"When you work in the arena that includes democracy, part of that process is everybody has to have an opportunity to submit input," he noted. "If I sit around and wait for the court system or a public vote on whether there should be advertising on the Web, I could be in real trouble. It goes back to this issue of the time involved. In Internet time, I cant wait six to 10 months to get an answer from somebody [who] says, Well, this may be OK and maybe it wont be OK. Im going to be on my third iteration of a Web site by then, and I need to have the income to drive the development and roll out."

One problem facing e-government services is the lack of a return on the investment to create those services. As the number of constituents expecting to take care of routine governmental transactions online goes up, governments have to scramble to keep pace with those expectations by debuting more and more government services on the Web. This situation forces IT directors to defend something thats hard to quantify.

"Right now, there isnt any ROI for Web expenditures," Steinbrecher noted. "How do you put an ROI value on public service? Were not like -- I cant say, Well, 450,000 people bought books here last month. If we answer one question for one 85-year-old woman through our senior-service agency that makes her life easier, theres no ROI in that at all. But to that one individual human being, we provided her with an invaluable service."


One of the fears racing through jurisdictions minds is that a company denied the opportunity to advertise on a government Web site will claim First Amendment violations and haul the jurisdiction into court.

To forestall potential litigation, one of the first steps Iowa is taking is crafting its own set of standards to define what sorts of advertisements would appear on the Web site.

"I assume that there will be challenges to this and that somebody will come up with a lawsuit of some kind at some point, but were attempting to take care of as much of that problem as we can," said Iowas Combs, adding that, between the states standards and the RFP winners standards, the state should have a "double firewall" to protect against lawsuits.

Liza Lowery, CIO of San Francisco, said that the city is considering online advertising and has met with representatives from a vendor who specializes in advertising on a municipal site to fire off legal questions.

"As a government, we have a big problem saying that a church, the KKK, the Pink Poodle or other people cant advertise," she said. "If you

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.