5 Online Government Services to Be Thankful For

I crusade for better online government service because I have seen what we can do, when we put our minds (and common sense) to it. Here are 5 examples of really great citizen services available right now.

1. Airport status and delays: I use this tool every time someone I know is flying. At a glance, you can see where airports are running behind, so you can adjust your expectations accordingly. Sometimes this service is more effective in predicting flight delays than the airlines’ own “flight status” tools.

2. Hold my mail: Most of us leave home on business trips or vacations, at some time. This convenient little service lets you take care of holding your mail – and releasing the hold – in seconds. I love its simplicity!

3. Find sex offenders living in your neighborhood: OK – this is a little clunky. You have to agree to the terms before you get to the form. Then the default search option is to search by a specific name. You have to figure out how to search by zip code, which – to me – should be the default. But all-in-all, it is easy to use; and the results are helpful. Good service for house-hunters, parents, and neighborhood watch groups.

4. Ask an expert about food safety: This is a pretty simple service that offers multiple ways to find out if the foods you are eating – or want to eat – are safe. It gives you options to call 24-hour, 7-day hotlines; type in a question and see if the FAQ database can help; or, within fairly tight time limits, chat online with an expert. You also can find out about food recalls and sign up for alerts. Turkey day…I’m thinking this might be a good URL to keep handy!

5. Real-time chat on USA.gov: I am a huge fan of real-time chat services. It lets citizens talk to a human being, when they can’t – or don’t want to – wade through all the printed material. It really makes you feel as though your government cares about you, personally. I’ve used the USA.gov chat a couple of times, and I found it pretty satisfying. I didn’t have to wait long in line. The reps were able to understand my questions fairly quickly. And they were able to point me in the right direction for answers, even if they couldn’t provide the answers themselves. Hours are weekdays only; but they do go until 8 pm ET, so people can still use the service after they get home from work. I wish every agency provided this service. And I wish it were available 24-7.

What do these services have in common? They have a simple purpose, and they’re easy to use (if not always easy to find). The people who wrote these web pages understand what citizens want and know how to provide it in ways that make sense to them.

‘Tis the season of thanksgiving – so I truly am thankful for these smart, effective, citizen-oriented services. And now, my Christmas list: let’s see more!

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Ari Herzog

I wish the USPS would be more proactive in telling residents about usps.com and the services therein. I never knew, until recently, I could hold mail via the website; and if I hadn’t arrived at the post office moments after it closed, I wouldn’t have thought to try the web.