Editorial: The search mandate

The federal government made it official last week: Google has beaten GILS.

GILS, in case you don’t remember, is the Government Information Locator Service. That initiative, begun in 1994, was an early effort to make government records accessible online by using the principles of library science. GILS essentially provided a virtual card catalog system for tracking what information is available and where.

Earlier this month, the National Institute of Standards and Technology announced it was withdrawing the GILS standard. NIST’s argument was simple: Advances in commercial technology, as illustrated by Google, USA.gov and other search engines, have rendered GILS obsolete.

Some GILS proponents — they still exist, both at the state level and internationally — will argue that commercial search engines do not make government information as easily accessible as GILS would. Government sources often get buried in the search results, making it difficult for users to find the information they want.

But even if that is true, commercial search engines still rule the day, whether it’s Google for general searches, USA.gov or other niche solutions. Most people probably would view the end of the federal GILS standard — if they noticed it at all — as another case of a government-engineered solution being superseded by commercial technology.

However, in giving up on GILS, the federal government cannot abdicate its responsibility to ensure public access to government information.

If most people find information through Google and other commercial search engines, agencies have an obligation to optimize their Web sites to work with those systems. And the work never ends, because commercial providers continue to develop new and better search methodologies and algorithms.

The free flow of government information is nothing less than one of the foundations of American democracy. Who knew that our system of government eventually would depend in part on something as arcane as search engine optimization?

chart

About the Author

John Monroe is Senior Events Editor for the 1105 Public Sector Media Group, where he is responsible for overseeing the development of content for print and online content, as well as events. John has more than 20 years of experience covering the information technology field. Most recently he served as Editor-in-Chief of Federal Computer Week. Previously, he served as editor of three sister publications: civic.com, which covered the state and local government IT market, Government Health IT, and Defense Systems.

Rising Stars

Meet 21 early-career leaders who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • SEC Chairman Jay Clayton

    SEC owns up to 2016 breach

    A key database of financial information was breached in 2016, possibly in support of insider trading, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DOD looks to get aggressive about cloud adoption

    Defense leaders and Congress are looking to encourage more aggressive cloud policies and prod reluctant agencies to embrace experimentation and risk-taking.

  • Shutterstock / Pictofigo

    The next big thing in IT procurement

    Steve Kelman talks to the agencies that have embraced tech demos in their acquisition efforts -- and urges others in government to give it a try.

  • broken lock

    DHS bans Kaspersky from federal systems

    The Department of Homeland Security banned the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab’s products from federal agencies in a new binding operational directive.

  • man planning layoffs

    USDA looks to cut CIOs as part of reorg

    The Department of Agriculture is looking to cut down on the number of agency CIOs in the name of efficiency and better communication across mission areas.

  • What's next for agency cyber efforts?

    Ninety days after the Trump administration's executive order, FCW sat down with agency cyber leaders to discuss what’s changing.

Reader comments

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

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group