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Who decides what is available and what is withdrawn?

Do you ever wonder why or how something gets on a federal government web site — or why something suddenly disappears? Like much of the web, the federal government web sites have a history of a “grassroots legacy of letting a thousand flowers bloom” followed by attempts to keep tight control over what is on the web.

According to a story in GCN (A tangled web we weaved by Trudy Walsh, GCN, 04/02/07), at the General Services Administration the chief information officer has every page reviewed every six months. The CIO gives the office responsible for the page’s content multiple “warnings” before the expiration date.

“We give them a warning so they can review the page,” said Susie Kampans, team leader of GSA’s infrastructure applications team. If they don’t, the content will go offline and won’t be available to the public.

The article describes different models of managing hundreds of millions of federal government web pages.

[Candi] Harrison [Web manager for the Housing and Urban Development Department] said she believes strongly in the need for a move toward centralized governance of federal Web sites. “But I think it’s going to take an act of Congress.”

Harrison estimates the number of federal Web sites at more than 24,000, “which is ridiculous. And let’s just say that unnamed sources at Commerce don’t know how many Web sites they have.”

Federal Web sites are funded by taxpayers, and that’s who they need to serve, Harrison said. “Some heads of agencies use the Web site as their own personal page, with a big photo of the secretary,” she said.

“Now we have 400 million government Web pages,” Harrison said. “We can’t keep that current or manage that. It’s all sitting out there unattended.”

The overwhelming amount of data on federal Web sites doesn’t even help most people. “The public can’t use all this content,” she said. “People make better decisions if they have fewer options.”

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