OMB Web site shakes bureaucratic design

The Office of Management and Budget has redesigned its World Wide Web site, giving a fresh look to the home page and easier paths to important documents that affect operations governmentwide.

The site's new design (www.whitehouse.gov/OMB), which went live last month, did away with a look that was not much more than a digitized paper document sprinkled with hot links. The original OMB home page was one long file that "meandered on and on" and was not easy to use, according to an OMB official who worked on the development of the revised site.

Like a lot of federal agencies, OMB relied on a lackluster model when it first established its Web site. Since the overhaul, visitors have been able to navigate the site using buttons and bars that make the interface "a lot more cheerful and outgoing," said the official, who asked not to be identified.One of the goals of the redesign was to make it easier for users to find specific documents while maintaining all of the content offered at the old site, the OMB official said.

Planning for the overhaul started about a year ago in OMB's management committee, and the first step was to find an organization that understood the principles of Web design. The OMB subcommittee assigned to carry out the redesign turned to a group within the Department of Health and Human Services and started discussing concepts.

OMB first had to reach a consensus on major information categories, which turned out to be one of the most difficult tasks of the overhaul. Another hurdle OMB faced was making sure all the information from its old site was properly sorted and cross-referenced under the new categories. Once those challenges were met, the rest of the overhaul went smoothly, the OMB official said.

OMB's major information categories include Budget Information, Legislative Information, Management Reform and the Government Performance and Results Act, Grant Management, Financial Management, Procurement Policy, and Information and Regulatory Policy.

OMB also organized documents by type, so any user looking for all circulars, for example, can click on Circulars on the left-side navigation bar and find a list that offers the documents by number or according to a subcategory, such as federal procurement.

After a solid draft of the new site was ready for testing, technicians ran a tool through the new code to check all the document links. The tool also identified any orphan documents and any technical problems with the graphics.

Six to eight weeks before the site went live, an intermediary intranet site was established where OMB officials could check their documents to make sure they were posted correctly. It also helped give the officials practice using the site.

In addition to the HHS team, the OMB group worked closely with the Executive Office of the President, whose servers host OMB's site.

A few finishing touches, including a search engine and a counter that tabulates the number of visitors, are planned as additions as soon as the White House installs a new server. That upgrade is expected within four to six weeks, the OMB official said.

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