Scrub your Web pages

Remember the Customer Service program? On Sept. 11, 1993, President Clinton issued an executive order setting customer service standards for federal agencies. During the following year, a few departments were planning the content and structure of their Web sites, and decisions were made to incorporate a customer service approach.

But events and experience can change the perception of how information is regarded. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were the catalyst to changed attitudes toward many activities, including what the government includes on its Web pages.

While the technical security of Web sites continues to be enhanced, there is a renewed emphasis on making sure that Web page content does not aid those who would harm the nation.

Here's an example. At a recent conference, an employee of a facility that conducts sensitive research reviewed the organization's Web site for attendees. The site included a tour of the facility, the location of laboratories and a description of the research being conducted. It also made available the names of scientists and advisers.

While certain content may have served in the past as a customer service, today some of the information can be understood in an entirely different manner.

The Defense Department took an early lead in reviewing its Web site content and removing information that could be helpful to an enemy. Modern warfare, however, goes beyond traditional military campaigns, and anyone is a target in terrorism's untraditional attacks.

Because of that, civilian agencies should also consider reviewing information contained on their Web sites.

The goal of customer service must not be abandoned, but managers should make sure that the information provided is not a road map. In cooperation with security personnel, new insight can be used while reviewing pages to scrub out potentially harmful content, and consideration can be given to new approaches for providing information that serves customers.

Powell is the Agriculture Department's Internet and intranet Webmaster.

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