Just as open-government websites find themselves facing drastic cuts, a new American Consumer Satisfaction Index, conducted by Ann Arbor, Mich.-based ForeSee Results, indicates that effective federal websites could actually save the government money.
The Office of Management and Budget’s E-Government fund, which pays for such sites as Data.gov and the IT Dashboard, was originally slated to receive $34 million in funding this year. However, in the continuing resolution compromise that averted a government shutdown two weeks ago and amid other budget cuts, the fund was allocated only $8 million.
That severe cut has put OMB in the uncomfortable position of having to decide which of its stable of open-government websites will stay up and which will have to be pulled.
But the new consumer report reveals having an effective government website could lead to cost-savings for the government.
Visitors, who are pleased with their visits to .gov sites, are 80 percent more likely to use the website as their primary means to interact with the government. This could add up to millions in saved postage, the report finds and, ultimately, less of a need for costly brick-and-mortar call centers and customer-service stations.
“This data shows that e-government is a critical way to save money and increase efficiency,” the authors of the report write. “In a new age of budget deficits and government austerity, the Internet represents the most efficient channel through which the government can do business.”
Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee Results, added that a “smart investment” in e-government for federal agencies “can and should be the solution to budget deficits, since these are the programs that end up reducing costs for the government in both the short run and the long run.”
But along with the utilitarian motivation of cost-savings, effective federal websites are also simply good for the democratic process, the report finds. “The idea that good federal websites make people more likely to participate in the democratic process and trust in government overall is intuitive, but this research quantifies it,” the research finds.
For example, 45 percent of people who found their website visit satisfactory were more likely to participate with the government entity in the future, according to the report.
The report does not shy away from recognizing the “limited resources,” government agencies are facing, especially when it comes to improving their websites. The solution is prioritizing website elements to get the most out of functionality, transparency and search capabilities, the report finds.