Let's Do E-Mail

Government organizations consider electronic mail to be the most cost-effective method of communication, a recent survey found.

The survey, conducted by the General Services Administration's Electronic Messaging Program Management Office, asked 223 state and federal organizations to rank various communication methods in order from least to most cost-effective. Eighty-two organizations responded, ranking e-mail as the best value, followed by fax messages, voice mail, telephone communication, the World Wide Web, face-to-face meetings, paper-based mail, and video teleconferencing.

However, 88 percent of respondents said their communication costs had risen since introducing e-mail to their agencies, indicating that e-mail supplements other forms of communication rather than replacing them.

E-mail has certainly taken its toll on paper-based mail. Thirty-three percent of respondents said they had seen a large decrease in their use of "snail mail."

The survey also found that large federal agencies give e-mail access to 58 percent of their employees and small agencies give e-mail access to 89 percent of employees.

All responding agencies reported that communication within their organizations had increased. All of them also reported more communication with other agencies through e-mail.

World Wide Web usage is considered important, though only 41 percent of agencies reported that Web access was "widely available." But 83 percent of agencies say they expect widespread access within two years.

Eighty percent of federal agencies have developed policies governing usage of the World Wide Web, while 95 percent of large federal agencies and 79 percent of small agencies have developed e-mail policies.

The Air Force is issuing a new policy later this year defining proper use of e-mail on government time.

"If used properly, e-mail is a superb tool to complement and improve our communications," says Lt. Col Frank McGovern, chief of Air Force communications and information policy at the Pentagon. "However, just like other forms of communication, such as the telephone or correspondence, there is a potential for abuse."

GSA's e-mail office provides support to agencies setting up email systems and also coordinates governmentwide standards for the technology.

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