Federal Web sites edge commercial ones in survey

Customer satisfaction with federal government Internet sites is slightly ahead of rankings given to private-sector sites, according to a new survey by University of Michigan business school researchers.

For the first time in its eight-year history, the American Customer Satisfaction Index measured satisfaction levels with government Internet sites in its report.

The average score for government sites, 74, was ahead of the 73.1 score for private sites.

"Since these Web sites are all relatively new, one would expect that they will continue to improve in the future," according to a commentary by Claes Fornell, a professor and director of Michigan's National Quality Research Center. Fornell also is chairman of management consultant CFI Group, a member of the partnership that produces the index.

"Even at this stage it seems clear the Web offers a promising new way for government-citizen communications," Fornell wrote. "Specifically, costs of communication are lower, consistency of information is better and citizen access is facilitated."

In a broader look at satisfaction with overall government services, the index showed a decline of 1.5 percent this year.

Users gave the IRS electronic tax filing system for individual returns high marks. E-filers' satisfaction score was 73 compared with 53 for paper filers.

The ACSI report, designed to gauge a range of customer perceptions about service quality and value, randomly sampled 39 customer groups for their input this year. It was released Dec. 16.

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