E-Government and Performance: A Citizen-Centered Imperative. (Performance Management)

Article excerpt

How the Small Business Administration is using technology to deliver improved customer service, create cost efficiencies, and offer businesses a greater voice in regulatory matters.

At a spring 2002 Council of Excellence in Government orientation session for senior government leaders, respondents were asked to think about a world where e-government was an accepted fact. They were asked to

Imagine a time in the future when the American government reflects the very best in innovation, leadership, and results. Issues of access, including closing the digital divide and making content accessible for those with disabilities and limited literacy, have been overcome so that all government stakeholders are able to communicate and receive information and services online at any time--without loss of privacy or security. Additionally, despite strategic investments in infrastructure, all areas of government are reporting substantial real-dollar savings and these savings are being transferred to taxpayers in the form of expanded programs and tax savings. Finally, a new government culture exists that values cross-government and cross-sector partnerships and allows government to be not only proactive, but also capable of responding quickly and effectively to shifting priorities and new challenges.

Citizen Expectations

The above paragraph describes a time when government and business interact online, services are delivered 24/7 at all levels of government, with rapid response to shifting priorities. A panacea? Perhaps. But citizens have become accustomed to the private sector delivering high standards of customer service on the Internet and expect government to do likewise. The public sector is expected not only to spend taxpayers' money cost effectively, prudently, and with fairness and equity ("do the thing right"), but it is also supposed to achieve what the public wants ("do the right thing").

Accountability for finances and accountability for fairness reflect how government works. As citizens and taxpayers, however, we also care what government does--what it actually accomplishes. This third kind of accountability is called accountability for performance, where we establish our expectations for the outcomes that the agency will produce, the consequences that it will create, or the impact that it will have. The Internet provides the platform for this "accountability for performance."

Our expectations for the performance of public agencies cover more than keeping a customer happy, however. They include achieving performance standards that are set at a higher level than a seller-buyer exchange. Yet, in an Internet-enabled world, how does a system of accountability work--in a world of decentralized governance, shared power, collaborative decision processes, and broad civic participation? By delivering the same level of customer service from government that citizens have come to expect from buying merchandise from Amazon.com, or ebay.com--and by eliciting feedback from consumers on their satisfaction and ways to improve public service.

Recent Opinion Research

According to a poll conducted by opinion experts Peter Hart and Bob Teeter between November 12 and 19, 2001, 75 percent of Americans who use the Internet had recently used a .gov site. In addition to the communications value of the Internet to ensure public safety, citizens believe that e-government has value for holding government more accountable and allowing citizens to ask questions and provide comments online. Americans want government that listens and is accountable to them.

Seventy percent of Americans polled by Harris-Teeter say that it is very important that government invest tax dollars into methods of providing individual citizens with information and services that are easier to use. Nearly as many (68 percent) say that it is important that government invest in ways to improve communication across government agencies and between the different levels of government. …