Some Successes, Room for Improvement on E-Gov

By Elizabeth

Ten years after the passage of the E-Government Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-347), a new GAO report finds federal agencies have yet to address key areas to improve citizen access to government information and services. While the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and other agencies have taken significant steps to comply with the act—including releasing guidance, coordinating reporting, and assigning leadership responsibilities—further action is necessary.

As stated in the report, the E-Government Act of 2002 was “enacted to promote the use of the Internet and other technologies to improve citizen access to government information and services, improve government decision making, and enhance accountability and transparency.”  With the tenth anniversary of the act’s passage approaching, Congress asked GAO to assess OMB’s and agencies’ efforts to fulfill the act’s requirements on leadership and organizational responsibilities and evaluate agencies’ progress with the designated improvements.

GAO reports some progress, as agencies have implemented many federal products and processes to promote electronic delivery of government services and information. For example, the act required creation of the first central portal for government information, USA.gov. In addition, the act improved public access to the rule-making process through Regulations.gov (though AALL members raised concerns about the site). Agencies have also made strides in tracking customer satisfaction with federal websites and are integrating best practices for electronic government into their operations and policy guidance.  OMB and agencies have made it easier to access, use and preserve government information by organizing website content and implementing electronic records management, and have issued policies on protecting the privacy of individuals’ personal information on government websites.

Still, in order to fully support e-government and e-lifecycle management, agencies must make changes in several areas. The GAO’s chief criticism is that OMB and other agencies have not established sufficient metrics to track e-gov programs’ successes or their compliance with the law’s intent. Agencies were not required to report on all of the act’s provisions over the past decade. For instance, from Fiscal Year 2006 to Fiscal Year 2009, agencies did not have to report on how they enhanced public participation by electronic means for development and issuance of regulations. OMB has not detailed to Congress which provisions it’s not reporting nor has it given the reasons for excluding them.

Further, OMB has yet to establish a government-wide online repository for federally funded research and development projects that’s searchable by the public. Citizens can now access consolidated government information through sites such as Data.gov, which helps the public find, access, and download non-sensitive government data and tools in a variety of formats.  But while steps have been taken to improve transparency and participation through federal websites, GAO has raised concerns with the accuracy and reliability of this information.

In order to fully comply with the act, GAO recommends that in its annual report to Congress OMB identify which provisions have not been reported and why, establish a federal research and development repository and website, and issue guidance on agency participation in this site. AALL helped to formulate the language of the E-Government Act of 2002 and has been an active proponent of the increased transparency and privacy requirements the act requires. We support the recommendations of GAO to OMB and encourage OMB and all agencies to take the steps necessary to fully comply with the e-government requirements.

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