Are government Web sites in danger?

The U.K. is closing 'unnecessary and expensive' sites. Could U.S. follow suit?

Government agencies have spent years building Web sites, improving them and striving to put as many services and applications online as possible. Interactive sites with databases of information, a full complement of services and portals to other government sites have become the norm.

But could the other shoe be dropping on Gov 2.0?

The United Kingdom's Cabinet Office has announced a crackdown on U.K. government Web sites, promising to shut down as many as 75 percent of them. Why? They’re “unnecessary and expensive,” according to the Cabinet Office’s June 24 statement.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude has ordered a review of the U.K.’s 820 government-funded sites, examining their costs, how much they are used and whether they could share resources with other sites. In addition to shutting down up to three-quarters of them, the government wants the remaining sites to cut costs by as much as 50 percent and consolidate their infrastructures.

The costs of running a Web site can add up. A report by the U.K.’s Central Office for Information (COI) found that, across its government, $140 million has been spent on building and running just 46 Web sites, and nearly $48 million was spent on staff costs for those sites in 2009-10.

The report also surveyed usage and came up with the most expensive sites on a per-visit basis. The U.K. Trade and Investment site, which offers help to businesses looking to export their goods, was the most expensive, clocking in at a whopping $17.56 per visit. Business Link, which offers help for businesses, was next at $3.20. That compares with other sites, which supply simpler services such as access to legislation, that cost pennies per visit. (U.K. Trade and Investment called the report misleading, saying it applied to only 20 percent of its site’s transactions and that the system has since been made more efficient).

The report also found that non-government sites that perform government operations, known as Quangos, were competing with official government sites, and the Department for Energy and Climate Change and the Energy Saving Trust bid against each other for Google search terms, which increased their costs.

The U.K. had also announced plans in 2006 to close down government sites, but didn’t follow up. Whether this attempt will get results is uncertain.

The U.S. federal government in 2007 had launched the Trusted Internet Connections program to reduce the number of connection between the Internet and federal agencies, but cutting back on the number of Web sites wasn’t part of that plan. If the U.K. gets results – trimming costs and eliminating duplicative services – one wonders if the same approach might find its way across the pond.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the U.K. government’s approach. Tessa Jowell, the country’s former culture secretary, warned of a "false economy," according to the Guardian. "Putting services online is not only more efficient, but often it is cheaper as well," she said. "The measures announced today ... may end up costing the government more money than it is looking to save.”

"In the last two years, the Labour government already reviewed 1,795 websites, of which more than 1,000 have already been closed."

Featured

Reader comments

Thu, Jul 1, 2010 Victoria De Alba

Hello! In the U.S. we have the same problem... I would like to share with you how Magnolia CMS (www.magnolia-cms.com) helped Manatee County in Florida save money. They did this with a new installation, turning a patchwork IT set up with a mix of legacy systems such as, IBM Lotus Domino, ancient Oracle database running on a Sun Micro Solaris OS into a streamlined, less expensive and fully functioning government solutions. FYI, the U.S. has about 3,141 counties with equally antiquated IT set ups as Manatee County had before deploying Magnolia. Therefore, it's definitely a great alternative for many counties and governmental units to get the latest IT set up, for a fraction of the cost, with its simplicity and Mac like intuitive interface. If you like I can forward you the case study about the problem, problem and solution...

Thu, Jul 1, 2010

The article sounds about right. I personally know of several duplicative and overlapping US Govt Federal web sites that could easily be combined. The public-facing web sites are simply reflecting the duplicative and overlapping missions of the agencies themselves. Not wanting to put their turf and funding streams at risk, is it really surprising that if one agency puts up a web site, all the other agencies 'competing' with them rush to follow?

Wed, Jun 30, 2010

Sir, The discussion about Cyber security threats has been in the air since 9/11 attacks. There has been so much discussion & so much useless worthless chatter and it looks like we can talk, & discuss till the cows come home? Cyber experts, solutions & ideas are coming out of our ears. Consulting companies & major contractors are seeing the BIG DOLLAR signs, & the are celebrating victory without implementing any value. The world has outside America has taken cyber threats seriously but the Americans talk, talk, & talk & shift gears numerous times w/o delivering a concrete approach & framework. Decision Makers need to wake up & smell the coffee, & forget about discussing & evaluating: Let's start with some simple key steps: Accept the fact that Primarily Cyber threats are more internal & self inflicted. Let's address them first. The CIO of tomorrow needs to ensure integrity Corporate Data infrastructure on numerous fronts: implementation of security policies & standards Issuance of millions & millions of memos that keep the work force abreast of new Cyber threats. These memos are usually Filed 13 without employees ever reading them or if they read ,it is all Greek to them- complex poorly written polices are not accepted by the organization. Clients, telecommuter workforce vendors This is a major pain point for all CIOs across industry sectors. Pouring funds that we do not have over a bad cause is a wasteful attempt. To address the internal Cyber threats the rules of engagement have to change drastically: Government is in a state of transformation The rules of engagement need to change. The time for three ring binders collecting dust is over Our government agencies do not have the bandwidth to write useless regulatory standards, kill trees, create tons of paper that will never be understood or read Award lifelong billions dollars of contracts to brother in laws, family , friends & lovers. Personal favors, government officials award contracts to personal favorites consulting & contracting companies. Later on these consulting & contracting companies pay back the favor by providing a lucrative position to occupy & warm the office chair, file his or nails, make a few calls to open additional doors to continue with the vicious & unethical cycle of code of conduct. The mundane process of the overall Proposal cycle needs to assessed, evaluated, and it definitely needs to be re engineered. With due respect government leadership needs to emphasis: automation transparency & accountability scalable solutions that do not take forever to be implemented Both government & the Private sector needs to implement & follow the KISS Principal. All internal threats within an Enterprise can be easily & timely addressed, all the fluff & discussions of the old mind set with a new face lift needs to stop. Our government is leaking with over spending & wasting, with lack of accountability

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above