Group to suggest Web standards

What kind of information should be on the federal government's public Web sites?

Beverly Godwin, director of citizen services and communications at the General Services Administration, seeks answers to that question. Should public Web sites include, for example, a search box on every page? Should all public sites include an employee directory?

Godwin leads a new group that must submit recommendations for Web content standards to the Office of Management and Budget, which will set the standards. Godwin's group has until December to make its recommendations.

Unlike the Canadian government, the U.S. government is not striving for a common look and feel across all federal Web sites, Godwin said. The idea is to find consensus on standards such as whether to require that every federal Web site have an "About us" page or whether every "About us" page include a mailing address and phone number.

"We're looking at everything in the context of what makes sense for the public," she said.

The other consideration is cost. No additional money will be offered to agencies to meet the new content standards, once they are adopted, Godwin said, "so [we] have to look at what people governmentwide have the money to do."

By law, all public government Web sites must have certain elements, such as a page with information about the Freedom of Information Act. Godwin's group will recommend additional elements that "are generally agreed upon" as necessary for public sites.

Elements such as round-the-clock live-chat rooms, which are starting to appear on some state Web sites such as Virginia's and Utah's, are unlikely to make the cut, she said.

A box on the FirstGov.gov Web site provides a place for government employees and the general public to submit suggestions for content standards, Godwin said. "Anybody can provide ideas," she said.

Authorization for the Web content standards working group comes from the e-Government Act of 2002, Godwin said.

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