Guidance governs shared Web sites

The General Services Administration recently released draft guidance outlining how agencies that operate World Wide Web sites containing other agencies' or federal organizations' material should charge for those services and how they should allocate costs.

While the majority of agencies today do not charge fees to support central Web sites, the issue is one that Webmasters need to address, particularly because as more agencies use the Internet for electronic commerce, the complexity and expense of operating a site will increase, said Rich Kellett, division director of GSA's Emerging Information Technologies Policies Division.

"The funding issues will continue to grow, and Webmasters will have to start dealing with those," Kellett said. "A reimbursable environment is one way to get funding for your Web site. We're saying [with this guidance] that if you operate in a reimbursable environment, this is how you should do it."

Establishing a charge-back system for a so-called "shared Web site," according to the draft guidance, "regulates users, imposes accountability and promotes careful management." Joan Steyaert, deputy associate administrator for information technology at GSA, sent the document to chief information officers and federal Webmasters.

While there are various approaches an agency can take, such as charging a flat fee or a variable fee, the easiest approach, according to the document, is to charge based on the headcount of the office using a particular resource, such as a listserv or software development efforts. Meanwhile, the infrastructure necessary to set up the site, such as servers and communications links, should be itemized in the budget.

For many agencies, the issue of setting up a charge-back system is not a high priority. Brian Dunbar, an Internet services manager at NASA, said that while NASA's home page posts content from different program areas, it does not charge for the service. "The agency as a whole has to decide to do it," he said. "I don't think it is a high-priority issue yet. And it could take intensive study to figure out what to do." NASA's budget includes money for maintaining its home page, he added.

Vic Powell, the Webmaster at the Agriculture Department, also said most USDA agencies have their own Web servers or use the department's main server at headquarters for free.

GSA provides Web resources to the National Partnership for Reinventing Government on a shared system and has agreements with other agencies for services, said Jack Finley, director of GSA's Center for Electronic Messaging Technologies. However, GSA and the customer agree to a price up front rather than charging for services on a recurring basis.

Although establishing a charge-back system may not be a burning issue for many agencies at the moment, it will become one that Webmasters eventually will have to wrestle with, Kellett said. "Dealing with the reimbursable issue is all part of the Webmaster becoming a manager and maybe an executive in terms of running a significant part of the business," he said. "The Web is becoming the marketing tool and delivery mechanism for their services."

GSA is looking for feedback on the draft guidance and hopes to come out with a finalized document.

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