OMB floats e-gov 'branding' strategy

E-Government Strategy

The Bush administration is urging managers who are developing the e-government initiatives to consider contracting with Web portal companies to host government Web sites, rather than investing the time and money needed to build them from scratch.

Some of the 24 e-government initiatives — which aim to improve interaction with the federal government for citizens and federal employees — resemble services offered by the commercial sector, Mark Forman, associate director for information technology and e-government at the Office of Management and Budget, said April 11.

Managers of the initiatives should consider asking those Web portal companies to build the online equivalent of a storefront for the government, he said. "For all practical purposes, it would have the look and feel as if it were a government site," Forman said.

He left open the possibility that agencies could negotiate co-branding agreements, under which the Web portal company's logo would be displayed on the government site.

Under such co-branding agreements, the client — in this case, the government — can pay a lower cost for developing the site.

The e-government initiatives that are best suited to this approach include the e-Travel, e-Learning and Recruitment One Stop projects, all of which involve creating Web portals similar to those offered by companies such as Orbitz LLC and Monster.com, according to Forman.

The Office of Personnel Management, the lead agency on the e-Learning and Recruitment One Stop initiatives, plans to inquire about vendors' interest in co-branding when it releases its soon-to-be-completed request for information for the initiative.

The team is working closely with contracting officials and experts for what may be a new way of partnering with industry, an official close to the initiative said.

Some agencies already have agreements with vendors to host online learning portals, including the General Services Administration's Online University, which is available to all agencies. VCampus Corp. hosts the online university, and the company's logo is clearly highlighted on every portion of the site.

The GSA/VCampus online university is "clearly a co-branded site," Forman said. And displaying a logo or noting that a site was built by a private company is not equivalent to placing advertising on the site, he said.

But co-branding, like advertising, could raise objections because the practice could be considered an implicit government endorsement of one vendor's solution over another, said a lawyer who works with government and industry on e-commerce issues and who asked to remain anonymous.

OMB has had trouble securing funding for the e-government initiatives, with little or no funds being appropriated for the projects. Offering a vendor a co-branding opportunity may be the only way to gain access to the commercial portals, the lawyer said, without paying a lot of money.

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