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E-government transparency: How well do websites serve citizens?

a hand wipes moisture off of a laptop screen, revealing the text underneath: "Government Transparency."

Illustration: Division of Research

Politicians promise, and citizens expect, greater transparency in the administration of government activities.  Still, despite the growing consensus that there should be more transparency, citizens frequently lack the information needed to determine if their expectations have been met, assert two Texas A&M University professors who specialize in governance research.

Dominic Bearfield and Ann Bowman, both faculty members of Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, have studied transparency issues extensively, and their most recent findings are published in the latest Takeaway policy paper from the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy. The research focused on what information Texas cities are providing via their websites and how useful that information is to citizens.

“Clearly, the Internet has changed the relationship between citizens and their government,” said Bowman.  “Governments at all levels use their websites to provide citizens with detailed information that a few years ago would have been kept in agency filing cabinets.”

Bearfield and Bowman say that Texas cities have not fully embraced e-government transparency.  With a maximum possible score of 42, Houston and San Antonio earned a 34, with Austin close behind at 33. The lowest scoring cities are generally smaller communities with populations of 20,000 or less.  With an average score of 16.7, the typical Texas city only posts about 40 percent of the indicators on line.

“While some cities have been successful, it’s obvious there’s room for improvement,” said Bearfield.