Dubbed Ask George, the service will take Ask Jeeves' natural language search technology and integrate it into the Access Washington State Internet portal, which offers information on state laws, taxes and other government topics.
The announcement comes as governments are stepping up online services, according to new research released this week by the International City-County Management Association (ICMA) and Public Technology.
The study, called the "Electronic Government Survey," focused on how local Web sites delivered interactive services and information, such as online transactions of fines, tickets, taxes, voter registration and requests for records, to citizens.
The ICMA said roughly 85.8 percent of local governments have Web sites. That compares with three years ago in 1997, when there were only 56.5 percent that had Web sites.
Because population influences a local government's Web presence, all of the jurisdictions with a population of 500,000 and above have Web sites.
The ICMA also said that out of the local governments that do not have Web sites, 70 percent said they plan to create one within the next year.
Local government Web sites "are growing exponentially," said ICMA spokeswoman Michele Frisby. "If a local government does not have a Web site, obviously it's not going to be able to offer citizens any online service."
The ICMA said it mailed its survey to 3,749 local governments in the United States, with more than half of them responding.
The survey found that few local governments offer financial transactions through their Web sites. Out of the 1,773 jurisdictions that have a Web site or plan to have one in the next year, a quarter of them--or 446 jurisdictions--indicate an interest in online payment of taxes, but only fewer than one in 10 of those interested offer this service. The ICMA found that 35 of local governments in the survey offered online payment of utility bills; 27 offered online payment of license and permit fees; and 26 provided online payment of tickets and fines.
"More local governments are beginning to use their Web sites as a way of disseminating information to citizens and delivering services," Frisby said. "Citizen expectations for local government are changing, and that is going to be the biggest impetus that drives" government Web sites.