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10/14/2009
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White House Confronts Barriers To Gov 2.0

Regulatory and technical requirements, including accessibility and electronic archiving, present unique challenges to bringing open government to the Web.

Regulations and technical limitations pose challenges in the federal government's move to "Government 2.0," the trend of Web-enabling government data and processes, Andrew McLaughlin, deputy CTO for Internet policy, said in a speech today in Washington, D.C.

Several issues come into play as the government increasingly uses popular Web sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Flickr to share information and interact with the public. Advertising on commercial sites is one of them. The U.S. government doesn't run ads on Web sites because it doesn't want to be seen as endorsing commercial products, but sites like Flickr and YouTube want to run ads on sites the government uses to host photos and videos.

As of now, some sites offer ad-free pages as a public service, but it's unclear how long they will continue to do so. "Do they offer their sites for free to the government forever?" McLaughlin asked rhetorically. "That's not a good business model."

The terms-of-use policies of some sites present other concerns for the federal government. Many sites use language that binds their use to the laws of certain states, but the federal government isn't bound by any one state law, McLaughlin noted. Often such language has to be tweaked for federal use.

A third challenge is Section 508, the regulation that requires any technology used by the government to be accessible by the disabled. New technologies often make compliance with Section 508 difficult, McLaughlin said. For example, if a Web site is using Ajax and automatically adds new information to a page, it's difficult for page readers for the blind or Braille readers to interpret and convey that information.

There's a similar problem with archiving. The government is required to save much information as a matter of public record, but it doesn't have a good way of digitally archiving things like Facebook comments. For now, the costly work-around is to manually print and store paper copies.

In addition, the White House continues to work on a new policy around its use of Web cookies, though it's unclear when that will come out. McLaughlin noted the government is still assessing the best way to deal with public concerns about what it will do with the Web usage data that cookies collect.

Despite the obstacles, the White House plans to forge ahead with its forthcoming Open Government Directive, McLaughlin said. The Directive, due for release in the near term, will require federal agencies to create more open and transparent processes and IT systems.

Read InformationWeek's first-ever analysis of top CIOs in federal, state, and local government, and how they're embracing new expectations. Download the report here (registration required).

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