IRS Satisfies Online Taxpayers

WASHINGTON (07/12/2000) - The Internet is credited with many remarkable accomplishments, but making people like the U.S. Internal Revenue Service must surely be one of the most wondrous.

Satisfaction among people who deal with federal tax collectors online is 75 percent - far higher than the 51 percent satisfaction rating registered by taxpayers who deal with the IRS on paper, according to Katie Hirning, deputy director of the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

The IRS is one of the few federal agencies that conducts online transactions with citizens. For the most part, government agencies have limited their electronic contact with the public to providing information. And they have gotten fairly good at it. Surveys show 60 percent to 65 percent of the people who deal with government agencies online rate the experience as satisfactory.

But if the IRS is an indicator of the bright potential of e-government, it also serves as a reminder of how far most other government agencies still have to go. "There is still very little transaction with government online," Hirning told a conference of e-government specialists in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

The goal of e-government is to enable citizens to conduct transactions with government agencies - from filing tax returns, to applying for business permits, to requesting benefits - from anywhere at any time.

Although that is technically possible now, it is not yet "organizationally and politically feasible," according to Sharon Dawes, director of New York State University's Center for Technology in Government.

"Stovepiping" remains one of the most serious impediments to e-government progress. Government agencies, and even departments within agencies, continue to focus on their own operations rather than on the services they are supposed to provide to the public. The result often is narrowly focused and not very useful World Wide Web sites.

One such site is a well-organized, informative National Marine Fisheries Service site for applying for permits to fish for bluefin tuna in the North Atlantic. The Web site "is an elegant solution" for fishermen seeking bluefin tuna permits, said Bill Piatt, chief information officer at the General Services Administration. "But why just bluefin tuna? And why just the North Atlantic?"

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