Webmaster training crucial

Over the past several years, the World Wide Web has evolved from a high-tech backwater to an important venue through which government agencies can deliver services to the public. Unfortunately, the haphazard approach agencies have taken to hiring and training the Webmasters who manage federal sites threatens to limit the value of a seemingly boundless resource.

A few years ago, agencies used the Web to post boilerplate information about their programs and activities. But agencies have grown more sophisticated in their approach to the Web, using it to provide benefits information to individuals, receive tax filings and post crucial economic data.

At the same time, agencies have plunged into the rapidly changing Web environment largely unprepared. Many agency Webmasters do not have the training needed to tackle security, privacy and other issues associated with the management of Web sites.

This lack of training puts information on agency Web sites at risk—be it Defense Department data on the location of DOD personnel or health-related data that compromises the privacy of individual citizens.

Webmasters often are asked to serve as "jacks of all trades," learning what they need to know on the fly until agencies get the time and money for training. The haphazard growth of the job also has left Webmasters with little policy guidance.

The government cannot afford to short-change itself. The integral role the Web already plays in government operations must be reflected in the resources the administration commits to it. Individual agencies must ensure that Webmasters receive adequate training, funding and other resources. The Office of Personnel Management should work closely with agencies and the Federal Webmasters Forum to develop a baseline of training and other job requirements for Webmasters across government.

It is unthinkable that the government would deny training to air traffic controllers or any other personnel in mission-critical jobs. The Clinton administration must begin to address the problems of Webmasters more seriously or its vision of a digital government will fail.

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