April 28, 2010

More Americans Utilizing Online Government Websites

Americans are increasingly using the Internet to interact with government offices on the local, state and federal level.

Today's Americans are now finding it much easier to use the Web to renew their licenses, apply for permits, pay fines, and even track where government funds are going, according to a study released on Tuesday.

More than 2,000 American adults were surveyed in late 2009 by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. In the study, Pew found that 82 percent of Internet users had looked up information or made a transaction on a government Website throughout the previous year.

"Recently, we've seen government agencies at all levels emphasize the use of online tools in engaging citizens in interesting ways and making data available to ordinary citizens," Aaron Smith, research specialist with the Pew Internet & American Life Project, told the Associated Press (AP).

The survey concluded that 46 percent had looked up government services, 41 percent had downloaded government forms, 35 percent had researched government statistics and 23 percent had obtained information on or applied for government benefits.

The study also found that 33 percent of those surveyed used the Web to renew their driver's license or car registration. 23 percent said they used the Web to see how the federal stimulus money was being spent, 22 percent downloaded legislation text, and 14 percent wanted to see who was contributing to the politicians that represent them.

Beyond using government services online, 31 percent of those polled said they also used social networking sites, blogs, and email alerts to keep up to date on what the government is up to. 23 percent said they join online debates about government issues and policies.

The Pew survey also found that 44 percent of adults found a government Website by using search engines, compared to 16 percent who directly visited a site they have used in the past.

The Obama administration uses its "ËœOpen Government Initiative' to make more data publicly available online. The effort seems to be paying off. Nearly half of those who said they visited a government site said they were able to get their business taken care of, while only 5 percent said their experience with a government site was unsuccessful.

Use of government services online went up with income and education. The Pew study found that 91 percent of those with an income greater than $50,000 a year and 89 percent of those with college education had used government services online. That compares with 76 percent of Internet users who earn less than $50,000 a year and 70 percent who have at most a high school education.

The study was based on telephone surveys of 2,258 adults between Nov. 30 and Dec. 27. The margin of error for the survey was about 2.4 percent.


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