Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Stop the Proliferation of Federal Websites

FirstGov spiders more than 24,000 federal public websites; and major search engines say they spider more than 180 million government web pages, including federal, state, and local. How can citizens find what they want and need in that jungle? It's like dumping them off at a shopping mall with 24,000+ stores and saying "good luck!" when what they need is a Costco - maybe not every brand imaginable, but at least a couple of the best options for each kind of product, all in one place.

As I watched the news broadcasts on the hurricane Katrina disaster, last summer, I saw officials across government end their remarks with, “visit our website at” I lost count of the different websites the public was told to visit. And – sadly – I don’t think I heard a single government official direct the public to FirstGov, the website that should be the front door to government information.

Putting up a new website for every program, initiative, and disaster is not helpful - especially since many of these sites are abandoned quickly, leaving behind outdated content that still turns up in searches. It’s a shotgun approach that misses more than it hits; and it is costly.

The other consequence of this proliferation of websites is that we now have thousands and thousands of pages that web managers can’t maintain. Agencies simply don’t have the horses to keep up with all that content. But the public doesn’t know that. They think if they visit a .gov website, they’ll find current and accurate information.

OMB or Congress needs to force some discipline on agencies to work together to collaborate and consolidate, to eliminate duplication, and to turn FirstGov into that warehouse store where citizens could find all the basics in one place (and only have to remember one website address).

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