Feds Tackle Sprawling, Disorganized Government Websites

Some agencies have more than 100 domains and dozens of Web hosting providers, but administration has ordered agencies to clean up their mess.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

December 21, 2011

3 Min Read

Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progres

Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progress

Federal Data Center Consolidation Makes Progress (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

The federal Web is sprawling and disorganized, according to a new report by an interagency task force on federal Web reform, but spurred by the White House's Campaign to Cut Waste, agencies are taking initial steps to transform the federal Web to better serve citizens.

The new report, State of the Federal Web, is the culmination of work by the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration's Citizen Services team to survey federal websites, require agency plans to improve their Web presence, and crowdsource ideas on how government can better serve the public online. This all ties into Obama Administration initiatives to cut wasteful spending and improve public service.

The surveys found 1,525 dot-gov domains across 72 federal agencies, 19% of which weren't even active. As part of their Web improvement plans, agencies will eliminate 26% of these domains and merge another 4% into their existing sites. Several agencies, including the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), have more than 100 domains apiece, while few large agencies--the Social Security Administration and NASA among them--have fewer than 10 domains. The Office of Management and Budget this summer placed a ban on new websites as part of the reform efforts.

In addition, the survey found that half of all agencies are using at least two different Web content management systems. Among the worst offenders was the highly federated HHS, which is using 19 different content management systems and 32 different Web hosting providers.

[ Learn more about federal IT priorities for 2012. See White House Moves To Future-Proof Government IT. ]

A lack of organization is a big part of the problem. Only 30% of agencies had consistent governance structures, polices, and procedures in place across their departments, and less than half of all agencies even have an agency-wide Web strategy. Only 8% of agencies reported that all their sites follow the same design template.

With all the sprawl, federal CIO Steven VanRoekel sees a lot of room for improvement. "In 2012, you'll see us taking bolder action around our approach to the Web," he said in an interview with InformationWeek last week. "This is an opportunity. We've been doing all the hard work to get agencies to shut [websites] down, consolidate, do smart redirecting."

While former federal CIO Vivek Kundra had suggested that the federal government might eventually be able to consolidate into one massive website, VanRoekel doesn't fully embrace that suggestion. In a speech Friday in Washington, he mentioned that the United Kingdom is moving to two websites in total, but VanRoekel said he didn't know if that was a proper plan for the much larger and more complex U.S. government.

In addition to consolidation, VanRoekel sees an opportunity to get better metrics on visitors to the federal Web. A ban on cookies on federal websites was lifted earlier in the Obama administration, and VanRoekel says he wants to do more Web analytics, albeit while still respecting citizen privacy.

While 76% of agencies measure traffic and look into search logs, however, many agencies don't adequately track performance for their websites, according to VanRoekel. "I need better analytics across the federal footprint," he said. "It's something that we don't standardize and need to think about." Only 21% of agencies have a consistent method for measuring performance, the surveys found.

How 10 federal agencies are tapping the power of cloud computing--without compromising security. Also in the new, all-digital InformationWeek Government supplement: To judge the success of the OMB's IT reform efforts, we need concrete numbers on cost savings and returns. Download our Cloud In Action issue of InformationWeek Government now. (Free registration required.)

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About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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