Study finds e-government progress has leveled off

Federal technology officials have hit a plateau in their effort to implement wide-ranging electronic-government initiatives in the United States, according to a report released by consulting and technology services firm Accenture.

In an interview Tuesday with Government Executive, Accenture officials said Cabinet-level officials must provide strong and uniform leadership to ensure improvement in federal e-government amenities.

Accenture studied and ranked 22 countries on their e-government progress. Canada finished at the top, as it has since 2002. South Africa finished last, a position is has also held for the past three years. The United States was tied for second place with Singapore. That represents a slight improvement. Accenture ranked Washington's e-government progress third in 2002 and 2003.

"We saw patterns in which countries would introduce an innovation, make rapid progress and gradually level off as the amount of impact that could come from an unchanged strategy began to diminish," according to the report, Accenture's fifth annual global e-government study. "To jump to a new level of maturity, countries had to reassess their priorities and craft a new action plan. Few countries this year showed they had made a true jump in maturity."

In the United States, the initial e-government push was a broad effort to put federal services on the Internet, and that manifested itself in widely varying degrees of usefulness, according to Accenture officials. Federal technology managers must now distill the existing e-government services to present the public with a useful and refined product.

"The next wave is going to be about high-performance government," said Stephen Rohleder, Accenture's chief of Global Government Practice. He believes, however, that the success of the subsequent e-government wave in the United States will depend on the leadership of Cabinet officials and the accountability of federal managers. E-government improvement will take place, Rohleder said, "if the person at the top says, 'This is my priority, I want to be measured on outcomes.' "

Rohleder noted that such an emphasis on accountability and results would mesh well with President Bush's five-part management agenda, which asks agencies to improve performance in human resources management, competitive sourcing, financial management, electronic government and linking program performance to budgets.

To achieve those results, agencies must differentiate between simply putting information on the Internet and actually allowing citizens to conduct transactions online, according to one Accenture official. The report found that agencies are already saving money and improving their own efficiency through e-government efforts. Accenture officials cited the Internal Revenue Service's online tax filing system as a prime example of delivering actual e-government services to the public.

Rohleder described the IRS success and other efforts as "flashes of brilliance," adding that it is the responsibility of top-level officials to gather and learn from the existing e-government innovations.

"The key in the next two to three year is to have government executives recognize flashes of brilliance," he said.

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