Survey: Web doesn't replace personal contact

Federal officials thought that online government services would eventually replace service channels such as the telephone, and the federal workforce would shrink as a result.

But the availability of electronic services hasn't reduced the need for phone and in-person contacts with federal employees, and probably won't for another 10 to 15 years, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

"For now at least, people want multiple ways to deal with government, and I think that will be true for some time," Rainie said today at the Management of Change conference in Philadelphia.

Management of Change is a government-industry information technology conference sponsored by the American Council for Technology and the Industry Advisory Council. The Pew Internet and American Life Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Washington.

According to research released today by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 97 million Americans either used government Web sites or e-mailed government officials in 2003, 50 percent more than in 2002.

However, more than half of those who contacted the government in the past year said they preferred telephone or in-person visits to e-mail or Web contacts, the Pew study said.

Americans are most comfortable getting information online from the government, but when they have a problem or need to share personal information, they are most comfortable dealing with a person face to face or by phone, Rainie said.

The survey results show that the federal e-government project that provides information and services to citizens "was a really good idea," Rainie said. The project, called USA Services, allows citizens to contact the government via phone, e-mail and the Web.

The survey "reinforces the idea of keeping those multiple channels open," Rainie said.

USA Services' Web site for governmentwide information and services, FirstGov.gov, gets 17 million page views per month. USA Services should receive 15,000 e-mails this year, and 90 percent will be answered within two days, according to Teresa Nasif, executive sponsor for USA Services at the General Services Administration.

GSA is promoting the services via mail to federal tax-refund recipients, print advertisements and television public service announcements, Nasif said.

"We want Americans to know 1-800-FED-INFO and FirstGov.gov as well as their home phone number and e-mail address," she said.

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