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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

HHS eliminated 36 website domains

Better check your links to MEDLARS, HIV.gov, TheDataWeb.gov, and 33 more HHS websites. They are all gone.

“The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has formally notified GSA that it is relinquishing 21 domains. HHS is in the process of relinquishing additional sites and expects to have relinquished a total of 36 sites, 23 percent of the domains owned by the Department per the base GSA survey, by the end of September.”

  • HHS Interim Progress Report, HHS, Web Communications & New Media, Dot Gov Task Force (DGTF) (9/6/2011)

    The allocation of HHS Web resources is currently so fractured that no one knows the total annual Departmental investment in Web-related activities.

    …HHS is an historically siloed entity, and its Web holdings reflect that legacy. The result is a Web experience that is not only antithetical to the concept of customer-centric design but is undeniably wasteful of precious resources. Like and related content is scattered across multiple office and program Websites, and the Googling customer is left to divine what content is relevant. Overcoming this entrenched culture will be the greatest challenge we face.

  • A Brutal Self-Assessment of HHS’ Web Presence, By Joseph Marks, NextGov (10/07/11).

National Dialogue For Improving Federal Websites

This announcement comes from GSA:

From: Lisa Nelson (XCI) Date: Mon, Sep 19, 2011 at 11:42 AM
Subject: Invitation to Participate in the National Dialogue on
Improving Fedeal Websites

NATIONAL DIALOGUE FOR IMPROVING FEDERAL WEBSITES

Please join me in participating in an exciting initiative that starts today: The National Dialogue on Improving Federal Websites. The Dialogue is a nationwide, two-week online conversation with web experts and the public to generate ideas for re-inventing how the federal government delivers information and services online. It’s part of the larger .gov Reform Initiative launched earlier this summer by the White House and the U.S. General Services Administration.

The dialogue will launch today, Monday, Sept. 19 at 2 pm ET and run until Friday, Sept. 30. You’ll be able to access it at: http://www.usa.gov/webreform/dialogue.shtml

The purpose is to allow people to submit and vote on ideas for improving various aspects of improving federal websites, such as: content, search, usability, accessibility, social media, multilingual content, and online services. The .gov Task Force will review the ideas and consider them as they develop a National Web Strategy and make recommendations for streamlining federal websites, strengthening federal web policy, and improving citizens’ experience with federal websites.

I know you have a goldmine of ideas, so I hope you’ll actively participate in the discussion and share your expertise and knowledge. We want to hear what’s working well, what can be improved, innovative ways to rethink the federal web, and specific examples you have from your industry or organization.

Although the focus is on federal websites, we’d love to get the perspective of all of you in state and local government too, since many of the challenges andopportunities are the same.

You can also follow comments about the dialogue on Twitter under the hashtag #dotgov.

Please share with your networks and encourage your friends and colleagues to take part in this important conversation


Lisa Nelson
Research and Strategic Partnerships
Center for Digital Government Excellence
Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies
General Services Administration
202-208-2530

Deepwater Horizon final report and a comment on how to (and how NOT to) post digital documents

[UPDATE: several people have let me know that the link to Volume 1 of the report is dead. I’ve posted it to dropbox for now (have patience, it’s 21MB!) and will update this post when I get a response from the Coast Guard. That raises *another* issue: the link to volume 1 on the coast guard site is a *dynamic* link (you can see the sessionID in the url). That means when the session ends, the link is dead. Documents NEED to have permanent links. One way to assure that is to send the document to the GPO for cataloging!. More soon.]

Yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon joint investigation team Released its final Report. According to the Wall Street Journal:

Federal investigators released their final report Wednesday into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year, castigating oil giant BP PLC and its contractors for their risky decisions and criticizing the government itself for gaps in oversight.

The report contains dozens of recommendations for improving off-shore oil drilling; but that’s not really what I want to talk about. As a govt documents librarian, my concern is instead with *HOW* the report was released and its implications for trusted government information. Here are a few of the questions or issues that I have:

  1. Why did the committee created to do the work — a joint task force between the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the U.S. Coast Guard — create a separate .com site (http://deepwaterjointinvestigation.com) rather than doing/posting their work on the BOEMRE.gov site — or at least requesting a .gov domain from General Services Administration (GSA)?
  2. Why was the report released on both the BOEMRE site as well as the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) site? The fact that it’s on both .gov and .com sites calls into question the authenticity of the report — and GPO has been very strong on digital authenticity and digital signatures of key govt documents to verify chain of custody and document integrity.
  3. Further, why were the actual documents themselves (The Adm. Papp/Director Bromwich Cover Memo, volume 1, volume 2, and appendices) were posted on different sites — cover memo, volume 2 and appendices on BOEMRE’s .gov site and volume 1 on the Coast Guard’s .mil site. And why were there redacted versions posted on the Coast Guard’s site (look at the file names) and unredacted versions posted on BOEMRE and the joint taskforce site?!
  4. Lastly — and this one particularly irked me because it blocked me from actually preserving the document in the Stanford Digital Repository — why was volume 1 of the report (the part posted on the Coast Guard’s .mil site) posted as a PDF with password security in place? I needed to combine the separate PDFs ( (memo, volume 1, volume 2 and appendices) into 1 file in order to save it in the Stanford Digital Repository (for more on that workflow, see the briefing of Everyday Electronic Materials (EEMs) that my colleague Katherine Kott did at CNI in Fall, 2010). But because it was posted as a “secure” PDF, I was blocked from extracting pages or assembling the PDF together.

So here’s what I would suggest that agencies do with their reports — especially their high-profile reports — in the future:

  1. DO post them to a .gov site AND send a copy to the GPO so they can be cataloged and the bibliographic records can be distributed to federal depository libraries for more widespread access
  2. DO post the documents on the same domain as the press release
  3. DO give users a choice for large documents: downloading multiple files for specific pieces of a report AND downloading the report in its entirety as 1 file
  4. DO NOT put any sort of digital rights management on public domain govt publications (I can’t stress this point too strongly!)

Is that so much to ask?

Nearly a quarter of dot-gov domains don’t work, analysis finds

A new study found many government web sites unreachable. It also discovered that more than one-tenth of the sites are unreachable without the “www” prefix.

  • Nearly a quarter of dot-gov domains don’t work, analysis finds, By Joseph Marks, NextGov (09/09/2011).

    An unofficial analysis of the roughly 1,800 top-level federal Web domains shows nearly a quarter of them are now unreachable.

    That may mean those sites have been shut down or that their content has been consolidated into larger sites in accordance with a White House plan to drastically cut the federal Web presence over the coming year, said Benjamin Balter, a new technology fellow at the Federal Communications Commission and graduate student at The George Washington University who designed the analysis tool as a personal project.

    …For simple, run-of-the-mill websites, requiring the “www” prefix typically means the sites are extremely old or unsophisticated. In the case of higher traffic sites such as NASA.gov and FAA.gov it may mean the sites are a complex mesh of public and private information, which makes modernizing the addresses more complicated, Balter said.

Obama orders streamlining of federal websites

Obama orders streamlining of federal websites, By Joseph Marks, nextgov (04/27/2011)

President Obama issued an executive order on Wednesday tasking federal agencies with creating new technology-based plans to improve their customer service within six months.

The plan is also aimed at streamlining the clutter of more than 20,000 federal websites…

Executive Order–Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary (April 27, 2011).

Within 180 days of the date of this order, each agency shall develop, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), a Customer Service Plan (plan) to address how the agency will provide services in a manner that seeks to streamline service delivery and improve the experience of its customers.

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