My comments on WhiteHouse.gov Open for Questions: Live Chat on Improving Federal Websites on 7/12/2011
Just the Questions
- What are the costs of using a .gov url? $125 each. Right?
- Are you actually talking about the costs of a minisite, not a .gov?
- What does it cost to maintain minisites?
- What did it cost to build these miniites?
- Were they built by internal employees? Outside contractors? Could you provide links to these contracts?
- Why can minisites not continue to sit there without updates? Security?
- If you are closing sites, why not archive them?
- Why not save money by going paperless for non-general public government publications (ie end ALL printing of Federal Registrar)
Mr. Phillips, Mr. Kundra, and Ms. Campbell:
When I first heard about President Obama's Campaign to Cut Waste I was enthusiastic. There are many processes in the federal government which can be updated to save both time and improve operations. However, when I started reading the details of the #dotgov initiative, I became confused. (1) What are the costs of using a .gov url? I remember reading that it is only $125, paid to another government agency. .gov urls are merely shortcuts or pointers to existing websites. Just a .gov URL costs a minuscule amount of money per year to operate. I suppose you are actually talking about one-off minisites behind many .govs. (2) Correct?
I agree that creating separate one-off microsites is costly. Indeed, many of them should never have been created, such as the Fiddlin Foresters (which I note has already been "axed"). (3) However, what cost is there in maintaining these sites? ((4) Could you give details on how they were built? Internal employees? Outside contractors? (4b) If so, could you provide a link to the contracts) I'd bet that hundreds of mini-sites sit on a server somewhere in the long-forgotten basement of a government data center somewhere in DC. In fact, I think you are spending more money evaluating their closing; archiving them; and pulling them off the net. (5) Why can they not continue to sit there, without updates? (6)If you are closing them, what efforts are you making to archive them?
I would suggest deploying some sort of open-source content management system which allows you to update the security on all of these sites at once, but the development would likely cost you more money than you ever hope to save on these sites.
Closing .govs might look flashy to the general public, but even if you do save some money on maintenance of separate minisites, the expense is still minuscule compare to either the public relations or IT expenses of the federal government; which is minuscule again to the $4 trillion the President is currently talking about.
However, I still think that there is a lot of money to be saved. Rethink how the government spends on PR: personal, purchasing ads, etc. Maintaining existing websites is likely a very small part of that.
In addition, I think you could do far more to paperless. Stop printing the Federal Registrar and most GPO publications all together (federalregister.gov is quite nice); end new paper deposits to the Federal Depository Libraries; rename the GPO the Government Publishing Office. You should also only start accepting electronic requests for information and comments for the vast majority of government publications such as requests for comments on proposed regulations, etc; (while still publishing for the general population such as IRS and Social Security forms). You spend about $2.5 billion to provide internet access to libraries through E-Rate. I think every citizen can access highly technical government documents purely online. Even in rural areas, getting information online is faster and cheaper (no stamp) than writing to the government to request information. If there are any problems with access for the disabled, provide a grant to software manufactures to fix them. Libraries can help people find the needed information, easing the transition. It is time to start thinking about sunsetting many of the old paper-based practices of the past.
It seems to me that closing down .govs might not even save money, and there are many far larger saving opportunities available.
Thank you for your answers to the questions above Michael Plasmeier
Sophomore at MIT