E-Government to Improve the Delivery of Services
In recent years, governments at all levels in developed and developing nations alike have increasingly recognized the benefits of delivering services to the public using so-called e-government methods. By providing information and services to their constituents in this efficient fashion, governments are also saving money while improving the satisfaction with their services among the public. There are some challenges involved in implementing and administering an efficient e-government system, though, that must be taken into account in order for these methods to be well received and accomplish their intended purpose. To determine what these challenges are, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to identifying opportunities for improving the delivery of government services using e-government methods. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.
Review and Discussion
It is reasonable to suggest that almost everyone in the United States has had the opportunity to use a computer and the Internet at some point in time, and the use of online services by American citizens for a wide range of purposes continues to rapidly increase. In this regard, Calista and Melitski emphasize that, "The diffusion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the public sector-particularly through the Internet and the World Wide Web-is now commonplace" (2007:87). In reality, e-government is certainly not a new phenomenon in the United States. For example, on June 24, 2000, President William Clinton conducted his first address to the American public using a Webcast in which he announced a series of bold e-government initiatives (Moon 2002). Among these initiatives was a priority to develop a comprehensive and integrated system that would place all online resources provided by the U.S. national government in a single Web site (www.firstgov.gov) (Moon 2002). The initiatives announced by President Clinton in 2000 included as well to provide online access to approximately $500 billion in grants and procurement opportunities for American citizens, educational institutions and businesses (Moon 2002). Based on these efforts by the federal government, a number of state and local governments followed suit and implanted their own e-government systems (Moon 2002). According to Moon, "For instance, they have created or improved their Web sites and provide Web-based services to promote better internal procedural management and external service provision" (2002:424). It just makes good business sense, of course, to provide governmental services in the most efficient manner possible, and it is not surprising that localized versions of e-government systems have become increasingly popular; however, there remains some confusion concerning what e-government is and how it is supposed to work among some Americans citizens. In this regard, Moon concludes that "Despite this continuing move toward e-government, the development, implementation, and effectiveness of e-government at the local level are not well understood" (Moon 2002:424).
Moreover, Jackson, Harris and Eckersley (2003) emphasize that while e-government has become an established reality, its relatively brief history has created a need for a better understanding of how it works and how it can help ordinary citizens interact with their local, state and federal governments. Establishing this understanding is an absolute essential element to achieve successful outcomes with e-government initiatives. For example, according to Jackson and his associates, "As the main targets of e-government are citizens, the legitimacy of the service depends in large part on its popular support, and the public good it conveys or provides" (2003:232). Therefore, an opportunity to improve the delivery of services using e-government methods would involve establishing their legitimacy among the public that uses them. In this regard, Jackson et al. point out that from a strictly pragmatic perspective, e-government is not an earth-shattering enterprise and has received little fanfare because it simply duplicates, albeit in a more convenient manner, government services that are otherwise available. According to Jackson et al., "Unlike comprehensive health care coverage or emergency services, e-government provides no immediate or blatant improvement in what the state offers: it is not necessarily a social 'killer app.' This is not to say that it does not improve government itself, just that existing services can work well without being 'e-enabled'" (2002:232). In order to establish legitimacy among its constituents, then, e-government initiatives must prove their worth to the people who use them in the same ways that the private sector evaluates new alternatives that involve changing the status quo. As Jackson and his colleagues point out, "The core argument behind implementing e-government must be the same in the public sector as e-business reformers adopt in the private sector: to improve operational performance. An e-government should make the state more effective and efficient" (emphasis added) (Jackson et al. 2003:232).
Certainly, no taxpayer would likely argue with more effective and efficient government and many authorities agree that e-government is the best way to achieve these goals. For example, a study conducted by the Council for Excellence in Government maintains that e-government "has the greatest potential to revolutionize the performance of government and revitalize our democracy" by facilitating transactions, improving efficiency, and bridging the gap between government and citizens (Dearstyne 2001). The report also emphasized, though, that there is a "huge amount of information that government must generate, update, and manage" and cites "the difficulties of putting programs and organizations of the government's size and complexity online" (Dearstyne 2001:16).
Notwithstanding these obstacles, though, the mandate is clear. The E-Government Act of 2002 ("the Act") mandates that federal agencies reduce as many traditional programs for the public as possible and replace these government services with digital versions (Davidsson 2008). According to Davidsson, "This process allows agencies to cut staffing and office infrastructure costs. However, it often places the burden on citizens to find the means of accessing new electronic e-government services" (2008:16). Based on the definition of e-government offered by Florida State University's Information Use Management and Policy Institute, e-government is "the use of technology, especially the Internet, as a means to deliver services to citizens, businesses, and other government or organizational entities," a major goal of the Act is to provide online alternatives to traditional government services in an effort to streamline the process and reduce the number of government employees required to deliver these services (Davidsson 2008).
Beyond the foregoing definition, e-government includes virtually any type of transaction that involves the government and conducted, at least in part, using information and communication technologies (Graffland-Essers and Ettedgui 2003). According to these authorities, "E-government plays an important function in mediating government actions and its role will continue to grow as communications technologies become more widespread. Already, communications technologies change the way that government operates by facilitating information dissemination, communications and transactions" (Graafland-Essers and Ettedgui 2003:13). As noted above, there is more involved in implementing and administering e-government services that simply creating a Web page and posting some forms and information on it. In order to establish the level of acceptance, trust and legitimacy among its users, e-government services must represent an improvement over existing methods of delivery. In this regard, Grafland-Essers and Ettedgui emphasize that, "E-government is not simply the process of moving existing government functions to an electronic platform. Rather, it calls for rethinking the way government functions are carried out today to improve some processes, to introduce new ones and to replace those that require it" (2003:13). Like the private sector in which companies of all types and sizes are constantly forced to make difficult decisions concerning the optimum approach to achieving a return on their investments, governments at all levels must make the determination as to which services represent good candidates for placing online and how they were operate. This may be far more complex than casual observers might think. In fact, Graafland-Essers and Ettedgui point out that, "The range of services that may be provided by e-government spans from simple information sites to fully interactive experiences where users and government engage in a dialog mediated by information technology" (2003:15).
In order to identify which services and functions are the best candidates for inclusion in an e-government initiatives, it is useful to consider the various levels in which governments operate. From this perspective, e-government can be grouped into three separate categories as follows:
1. Government to citizen (GtC);
2. Government to business (GtB); and,
3. Government to government (GtG) (Graafland-Essers and Ettedgui 2003:13).
The relationship between the sponsoring government, businesses and citizens in an e-government environment is illustrated in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Organization of e-government
Source: Graafland-Essers and Ettedgui 2003:13
As can be readily discerned in Figure 1 above, there is a mutual relationship between citizens, businesses, and the sponsoring government that is forged by the e-government framework. According to Graafland-Essers and Ettedgui, "GtC designates just as well interactions that originate with government as with the citizen. Likewise, GtB designates interactions between businesses and government. GtG comprises all intra-government interactions within and across agencies" (2003:13). In order to be regarded as a success at all three of these levels, e-government must enjoy the support of the top leaders in the government in order to ensure…