It’s been 12 years since the U.S. government went online. The first stage of e-government meant a passive presence on the Web based on information, but not citizen interaction. The public sector evolved to the second stage: developing Web applications that allowed individuals to interact with government, such as paying parking tickets and renewing drivers’ licenses.
But these applications are still often quite user-unfriendly, too often designed around the needs of the agency, rather than the needs of the citizen. While most governments and agencies have made progress in moving to stage two, they have been slow to move to the third stage of e-government – create functionally oriented, citizen-centered government Web presences by breaking down bureaucratic barriers. Some in government have pushed hard to get to stage three, but all too often, they’ve faced stiff resistance. By their very nature, governments have a hard time building applications that link together multiple agencies and programs, and an even harder time linking applications that cut across levels of government.
Few agencies see their job as helping users solve problems or access information, including information from other related agencies, other levels of government and even private-sector players. Rather, the default attitude is to present only their agency’s information and applications. As a result, it doesn’t appear that governments acting alone will any time soon make the kinds of fundamental changes needed to bring about true citizen-centered e-government.
This does not mean citizens must be permanently consigned to often frustrating Web interactions with the public sector. Governments can move beyond engaging with the private sector as e-government vendors and instead empower third-party, for-profit and nonprofit organizations as partners in the provision of e-government services.