Website Reduction Act of 2010

 

In 1980, the Paperwork Reduction Act was established in part to “improve the quality and use of Federal information to strengthen decisionmaking, accountability, and openness in Government and society.”

What if we implemented the Website Reduction Act (WRA) of 2010 to accomplish the same objectives? Not only would this significantly improve the quality and use of online Federal information, but it would save millions (billions maybe) of dollars in taxpayer money. The human and capital resources used to manage under-performing, unnecessary Websites would be re-allocated to other .gov Web properties and made more robust.

Back in January, UK.gov closed half its websites following a 2006 report recommendation, so we know this can be done.

Who’s in charge of making this happen? How do we begin? Can I be in charge?

Tweet to support the Website Reduction Act

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh and a strategy consultant for CivicActions and NuCivic. More about him here. He can be reached at luke@govfresh.com.

  • http://twitter.com/sarahebourne Sarah Bourne

    We’ve been on a website diet in Massachusetts. In 2000, we had close to 200 hundred websites. Over the years, we’ve been integrating sites into the Mass.Gov portal, using a shared platform/tools, with a consistent architecture and design. Our approach has been to group sites by Executive Office, which tend to be “topic” oriented, into sub-portals. See mass.gov/eohhs, mass.gov/eops, mass.gov/eolwd for examples. There are still about 20 sites for agencies under the Governor to be rolled up. We have over 325,000 content pages (not including navigation pages or download files) in the portal.

    Was it easy? Not often. Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth! The importance of their website! Their lovely design! But once “portalized”, agencies found site visits increased. They were able to put more effort into the actual content instead of colors and logos and the like.

    Because we’re using a shared infrastructure, we’re able to conduct usability and information architecture studies and hire talented designers, which improve everybody’s web presence. We are able to have shared solutions for important but oftimes invisible necessities such as public records law and accessibility compliance. Each Executive Office has their own portal team, which has reduced the number of people it takes to maintain their sites while improving the quality.

    And users seem to like it.

    I’m not sure what consolidation would look like at the federal level, but based on our experience, I think it should be pursued.

    By the way, Jeffrey Levy and I were championing this concept over a year ago on Twitter. (There were others, too: some pro, some con.) The hashtag was #1govweb; you can still find vestiges of it on Google and Bing search.

  • http://www.ondotgov.com Gwynne Kostin

    No Luke, I wanna be in charge. :-)

    But I don’t want another regulation. I am regulated out. There is some significant carrots, as Sarah outlines above. Most importantly, the consolidation of content in an umbrella site increases findability by search engines. I used to tell folks who wanted “their own” website that their content is more available on the central site. Add some professional curating–optimizing for SEO and improved navigation and readability–and the sale is easier to make.

  • http://lukefretwell.com Luke Fretwell

    Sarah: Your ‘portalization’ results confirm my suspicions of the need for a movement around eliminating the fat in the federal Web eco-system. I think if you graphed that or told the story with visuals or as a case study, it would be a powerful testament to moving the Website Reduction Act (or the concept, at least) forward and inspiring others to do the same. Maybe a GovFresh Q&A would be appropo.

    Gwynne: If not in the form of regulation or unfunded mandate (unfunded mandated out yet?), how do we get the spirit of the WRA enacted at the federal level? If Sarah had challenges at the state level, seems nearly impossible to do with feds unless some sort of formal directive. Something GSA would spearhead? OSTP? I’m assuming you’re now in charge of all this. How do I stay abreast of your progress? Do you have a blog I can follow? ;-)

  • http://www.mass.gov Susan Parker

    RE regulation — you might try to get early adopters on board first, but I do think eventually you will need something along those lines. We started the Mass.Gov consolidation process two administrations ago with a very loose mandate and only worked at first with “willing” partners. However, about two years ago our Governor issued an executive order REQUIRING Exec. Branch agencies to consolidate. I think this has been crucial to ensuring we complete the process.

    I’d add that in addition to website consolidation, it’s about brand consolidation — in addition to banning use of .com and .org, we try to enforce a mass.gov/XYZ URL convention for all sites, regardless of where they sit. We *try* to enforce use of very high level, intuitive, concise terms for the /XYZ part, but sometimes politics get in the way. I do think that the feds would benefit from re-thinking how their URLs are managed, and how citizens are presented with thousands of unique .gov (and non .gov) URLs.

  • http://www.istrategylabs.com Peter Corbett

    This is a great idea. We talked about the need for that at Transparency Camp last year – Bev Godwin and Sheila Campbell seemed to be interested in having the GSA involved (in what way I don’t know), but it might be something that OSTP needs to lead.

    BIG cost cutter here = great political fodder

  • http://www.twitter.com/svenburg Patrick Svenburg

    The idea is as simple as it is brilliant. The question is if it needs to be a centralized mandate or if it should be done on an agency level? Sounds like something the Federal Web Managers Council should make some recommendations around.

  • MIke Herrmann

    Luke,

    Your idea of consolidating websites is obviously good. Your suggestion of savings millions or billions by doing so is stated without any research and is probably substantially overstated. In my experience the vast majority of government “under-performing, unnecessary Websites” are also unsupported. Built, launched, and subsequently ignored. The resources allocated to these websites are typically minimal if any at all.

    Sometimes right is, simply, right, and doesn’t require an over-wrough, under-researched claim of cost savings. Just my .02.

  • http://lukefretwell.com Luke Fretwell

    Thank you for your comments, Mike.

    I’ve tried to uncover more information on the federal Web eco-system, including number of Websites and spending around this. If you have insight, please let me know. That’s part of my problem. We don’t have any real insight into this.

    We have Recovery.gov and the Federal IT Dashboard when they should really be one and the same, all with the same functionality. Given Recovery.gov’s price tag, we could’ve saved $18M right there.

    The Website Reduction Act coupled with suggestions in Why Gov 2.0 means the U.S. Government must centralize its Web operations surely would go a long way in saving millions (trillions? ;-).

    Luke

  • http://www.ondotgov.com Gwynne Kostin

    I’d like to see some some creative non-mandate ways to make this change. This space is moving so quickly and changing every day, so I worry that any mandate would have the “spirit” of cement rather than the spirit of change. And let me tell you, there are many days I feel like I am running through water to make progress.

    There are some assumptions that we need to think about regarding consolidation. Like, is audience size the driving factor? What about niche audiences? Can they be served in a portal environment? Why is it harder to find government content on the interwebs than other content–or is it the same issues? It’s not clear to me that the efforts in UK would translate to US. Our 50 independent states + Fed gov means that most services are provided by states (as they see fit), so how would citizens see benefits unless consolidation was taken to the state/local level? Also, Is a central model better than a distributed model? Under what circumstances? How would it work? How much do websites cost? Would a central hosting model reduce prices? What’s the advantage to a common look and feel for sites that provide passports and travel info and sites that provide enviromental regulation (different purposes, audiences, etc.)? What do we lose in innovations if there is a single government web blob? Why are we so worried about web “sites” when its the distribution of information across platforms and devices and sites that’s becoming increasingly important?

    I do like the idea of transparency, and I think that you can make a clear case for a public dashboard. Since the feds direct the dot-gov domain, you could dump all the top level domain names with the agency who owns it into a dashboard. From there, we can begin to add data regarding traffic, cost, etc. If agencies won’t provide traffic numbers, we can get them from a third party (Nielsen, ComScore, etc). We can also begin to tag the sites and let folks sort and find out where there is overlap. Maybe even have folks rate the sites using some standard satisfaction metrics? Also, let people add gov sites that are on dot-com domains or are using third-level domains to ferret out the space.

    Sunshine can be a natural consolidator as redundancy and quality are brought front and center. People and people via Congress and the budget process can push to make this make sense. (okay, I’m ducking, now)

  • http://lukefretwell.com Luke Fretwell

    Gwynne,

    Agree mandates and laws can be impediment to innovation, but how would federal government go about doing this? Would you guys take the lead? Seems like the initiative would have to come from somewhere.

    Maybe GSA could start the Website Reduction Initiative. No council, subcouncil, task force, committee. Just ‘here’s what we’ve done, here’s why, here’s how you can do it also.

    Agree with comment on platform, but to date, the browser is still pretty much the only platform you can efficiently design for that can be accessed across multiple devices, which is why I hone in on Websites. Re: analytics, I’d love to see this open up more (Open government means open analytics).

    If the federal government really wanted to get creative, it’d build on a model like Facebook or Twitter or other social platforms, which still allows for innovation. Just a matter of bigger picture thinking.

    Luke

  • http://twitter.com/sarahebourne Sarah Bourne

    Because of things like Gwynne mentioned, a single, humongous blob of a website (and what else could it be if only one?) would not be much help. We should be looking for techniques that allow us aggregate information from a variety of sources, presented to meet the needs of a particular audience – a federated model. Does this mean everybody needs to use the same infrastructure? Although that’s one way to do it, a more realistic approach would be to adopt common, open standards.

    Based on our experience in MA, I don’t think you’re going to find eye-popping savings in consolidating existing sites. The big savings come from ceasing to build brand new, stand-alone sites, each with their own navigation and graphic design, etc., for every new program that comes along, or even worse, every new advertising campaign.

    The promise, and therefore the guiding principal for consolidation has to be improving the customer experience. This could includes a number of things: aggregated and organizing similar information, getting rid of outdated/redundant content, minimizing the number of host/domain names to boost page ranking, using standardized navigation and visual cues, etc. Can people easily find what they’re looking for? Are they satisfied when they have? Those are the questions that will determine how much to consolidate, and when to stop.

  • http://lukefretwell.com Luke Fretwell

    Sarah,

    Thanks for the comments. My definition of consolidation includes what you’ve mentioned with regards to organizing similar information, getting rid of outdated content, etc. And yes, every one-off advertising campaign.

    First step would be to have an understanding of what the federal Web eco-system looks like. How many domains are there? How many people are managing this? What’s the infrastructure cost on all of this? Has anyone in the federal government done an audit of this since the first government Website was launched? Once that happens, we’d really be able to asses the potential for savings.

    Another (harder) question to ask related to customer experience:

    “Are people finding government services/information they never knew existed, but would really help make their lives better?”

    I would imagine if you exposed the eco-system and analytics, you’d find Web professionals coming out of the woodwork to offer great suggestions for improvement (for free) much like you see happening with open data.

    Also, if you made the .gov Web system more social, let citizens help citizens find information, vote up helpful pages, etc., it might lessen the burden of internal government employees and truly build government as a platform.

    I know we could go on and on with this. My big question is, since Gwynne’s in charge here, when’s she going to fix it? ;-)

    Luke