People spend a lot of time talking about what’s wrong with government, but since today starts Public Service Recognition Week, it is important to highlight the many innovations taking place in the public sector. Government officials at the state and federal levels have made tremendous progress over the last decade in placing reports, data, and services online for consumers and businesses.
When we first started studying government websites 10 years ago, only 22 percent had online services. Today, that number has grown to nearly 90 percent. Nearly two-thirds of Americans pay their income taxes online. Forty percent have gone online for government data, according to a recent survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. One-third has renewed a driver’s license or auto registration online. Twenty-three percent have participated in online debates about government policy. Thirteen percent have read a government blog.
Many agencies have added novel features to their websites. For example, the Wyoming Supreme Court has a database of Supreme Court Opinions online. West Virginia provides a “live chat with customer support” for its website visitors. The Indiana Portal helps visually impaired visitors by reading the web page aloud in English. The state of Michigan portal provides 10 Podcasts, 72 RSS feeds, foreign languages such as Spanish and Arabic, and some forms in languages such as Albanian, Chinese, French, Hmong, Korean, Polish, Russian, Serbo-Croation, and Vietnamese. On the Wisconsin Portal, there is a business wizard to help users locate information on starting a business.
At the federal level, a technology revolution has boosted public sector transparency, participation, and collaboration. Every federal agency has placed new data sets online for people to access free of charge. There is information on airport flight delay times, car safety ratings, crime statistics, small business loans, and business permits, among others. You can download the raw data, map the information, or search for particular items of interest. We should applaud these and other public sector innovations because they are informing people, boosting productivity, and helping to make government agencies more effective.