Kundra explains cost-cutting for 24,000 fed websites
After the White House’s campaign to trim duplicative federal websites got off to a rocky start last month, CIO Vivek Kundra has emphasized that the goal is to comprehensively improve online services and save money.
Kundra, appearing in a video conference at the White House broadcast live online on July 12, said the Web reform initiative is just getting started and involves more than trimming the overtly duplicative, outdated and rarely-visited sites among the estimated 24,000 federal websites.
The next steps involve more ambitious strategies to improve efficiency and online service delivery in a comprehensive fashion, which will reduce taxpayer costs, he said.
“We have watched a huge revolution in how services are delivered in the private sector,” Kundra said, naming “self-service” Web portals and mobile device applications as examples. But the public sector has lagged behind in those areas, he said.
“Having Americans navigate the jungle of 24,000 websites makes no sense,” Kundra said.
The White House announced the Web reform plan June 13 as part of its ongoing campaign to cut waste. Initial reaction was somewhat mixed, as taxpayer groups suggested it would generate only modest savings and bloggers mentioned specific sites — such as FiddlinForesters.gov for a string band made up of U.S. Forest Rangers -- targeted for elimination.
“We must bid farewell to everyone’s favorite website devoted to foresters who play the fiddle,” wrote blogger Nathan Badley in an entry on June 16.
On July 12, the White House created a new website for the program and released names of the members of a federal task force to carry out the website campaign. The campaign also published a list of the 1,759 federal Web domains that host all the websites involved. By Oct. 31, federal agencies have been ordered to submit an inventory of their websites and plans for improved efficiency.
The effort will involve new policies and efficiency-oriented website restructurings that aim to streamline how information is delivered to the public via the Web and to reduce the need for back-end support provided to the websites by federal employees and IT systems, Kundra said.
At the same time, the agencies have to be mindful of records management laws and requirements as they consolidate on the Web, he added.
There is much room for improved efficiency, Kundra asserted. Many federal sites were designed with 1980s and 1990s information architectures and ought to be updated, and also should be designed to accommodate the growing popularity of mobile devices, Kundra said. Also, more individual sites should use the common USA.gov central search engine rather than develop and use their own search engines.
Federal sites should take greater advantage of the self-service Web applications developed in the private sector rather than rely on federal staff and systems to provide information, he added.
“It is very hard to figure out where the website starts or stops and the back end begins,” Kundra said.
He suggested that inefficiencies are likely as prevalent in federal websites as they are in federal data centers. Both websites and data centers grew in number dramatically in the last decade, and many are underused, Kundra asserted. The White House has a related campaign to consolidate 800 federal data centers that are operating below capacity.
Kundra will leave the White House in August to accept a position at Harvard University.
Sheila Campbell, director of the General Services Administration’s Center for Excellence in Digital Government, outlined some of the other upcoming benchmarks for the Web reform campaign:
- The task force is consulting with the United Kingdom, state of California, World Bank and other entities that have consolidated public sector domain websites into a single domain, or into several domains.
- Federal agencies by Oct. 31 must perform an inventory of their websites with information on who is in charge, how often it is updated, what is the purpose, who is intended audience and what are the top tasks performed, among others. The agencies also must submit plans for public service improvement on the Web.
- The task force will look at Web policies, which have not been updated since 2004, to look for opportunities for common tools and design templates.