WASHINGTON - Internet users are increasingly turning to e-government to carry out their business with government. New research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that 97 million adult Americans, or 77 percent of Internet users, took advantage of e-government in 2003, whether that meant going to government Web sites or e-mailing government officials. This represented a growth of 50 percent from 2002.

The new Pew Internet Project report, called "How Americans Get in Touch With Government," surveyed Americans on how they deal with government, what methods they use, and how e-government compares with traditional methods such as the telephone or letters as a tool for citizens engaging public agencies. The findings show the benefits and limits of e-government.

According to the report, e-government increases the flow of information between citizens and government, allowing people to contact agencies directly over the Web or find out more about a problem they may need government assistance with before they pick up the phone. And it allows people to comment easily on civic issues of the day. Specifically:

  • Internet users are about three times as likely as non-Internet users to get in touch with government, whether the contact means conducting a transaction or seeking help with a problem.

  • 30 percent of Internet users have e-mailed a government official in order to try to influence policy or change a politician's position on a law.

    The current limits of e-government have to do with people's preferences, Internet access, and the variety of problems people bring to government, not all of which lend themselves to e-government solutions. Of the 54 percent of Americans who contacted government in the past year, telephone or in-person visits were preferred to the Web or e-mail by a 53 percent to 37 percent margin.

    Additionally, the report finds that the more complex or urgent a problem a citizen has, the more likely he is to pick up the telephone or visit a government office to address the problem. For the one-third of American adults without Internet access, non-cyber means are the only options they have to contact government.

    "When citizens think about a tool to contact government, they have a Swiss Army knife in mind," said John B. Horrigan, senior researcher for the Pew Internet & American Life Project and principal author of the report. "People want multiple means at hand when they want or need to turn to government. The Internet's main benefit is arming people with more information; this helps people move through their dealings with government more efficiently."

    The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts to explore the social impact of the Internet.

    Publication date: 05/31/2004