GSA signs Google deal

Agreement includes other Web 2.0 providers

After long negotiations, the General Services Administration has signed agreements with Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and blip.tv that make it possible for federal agencies to use the tools while meeting federal requirements, GSA officials announced last week.

Under the agreement, agencies can immediately begin using new-media tools that let people post, share and comment on videos and photos on the Web. Individual agencies must decide which tools their employees may use and how they may use them. The deal took time to reach because the terms of service the sites offer as their standard agreements with users didn't comply with federal rules that pertain to government sites. GSA and a coalition of agencies have been working with the providers to develop terms of service for federal agencies. The new agreements resolve legal concerns associated with many standard terms and conditions that pose problems for agencies, such as liability limits, endorsements and freedom of information, GSA officials said.

"We need to get official information out to sites where people are already visiting and encourage them to interact with their government," said GSA Acting Administrator Paul Prouty. “The new agreements make it easier for the government to provide official information to citizens via their method of choice.”

The agreements create a road map for agencies that want to use third-party media providers, said Mark McCreary, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild and an expert on Internet law. Agencies will likely not need any waivers from the standard provisions approved by GSA, he said.

"The success that the GSA has had with respect to standardizing the provisions of terms and conditions for those provisions causing it concern is meant only to satisfy the contracting requirements for government agencies," McCreary said. "These changes solve the hurdles that arise when governmental agencies want to use the services” but don’t go beyond that.

For example, the agreements do not take into consideration whether an agency should use YouTube or what content should and can be posted, he said.

GSA officials said they are in discussions with other providers that offer such services to develop acceptable terms-of-service agreements.

GSA negotiated on behalf of all agencies because providers were reluctant to expend resources developing separate no-cost agreements with dozens or hundreds of agencies, GSA officials said.

The agreements let providers work with GSA as the principal point of contact, making the process more efficient for the government and providers, GSA said.

“Several federal agencies helped to negotiate these agreements, so it's hoped that other agencies will find the language acceptable,” said GSA Acting Associate Administrator Martha Dorris.

GSA officials said they started with Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo and blip.tv because those providers are innovative and have large audiences. However, the agency would like to negotiate agreements with many additional providers.

Agencies are already free to use Twitter because GSA found its standard terms of service compatible with federal use.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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