Are 1,000 federal websites really a waste?

Fiddling Foresters site is no more, but are there 999 more like it?

One down, 999 to go.

The Obama administration’s efforts to cut government waste by, among other things, eliminating extraneous federal websites has claimed its first pelt. The Fiddling Foresters are no more — at least, they don’t exist on the Web.

FiddlingForesters.gov is one of the examples of wasteful government spending President Barack Obama cites in a White House video introducing the administration’s Campaign to Cut Waste. “I’ll put their music on my iPod,” Obama says, “but I’m not paying for their website.”

The website was, indeed, devoted to four U.S. Forrest Service members who play folk music. On June 14, a day after Obama announced the campaign, it has disappeared from the Web. Message 404.

The forester’s site was one of 1,000 the administration wants to shutter as part of the campaign, which was established by executive order and is being run by Vice President Joe Biden. The plan calls for shutting down 500 sites in the next few months and hitting the goal of 1,000 within a year.

The administration also plans to stop the creation of new websites. A statement from Biden's office announcing the plan had said there were 2,000 federal websites, but that apparently was a reference to top-level domains, such as WhiteHouse.gov. Subsequently, Macon Phillips, White House director of New Media, explained in a blog post that the nearly 2,000 top-level domains support close to 24,000 websites "of varying purpose, design, navigation, usability, and accessibility." So although it seemed the administration was seeking to close half of the government's websites, the percentage will be a lot less than that.

Websites are only a part of the plan to cut waste. Among other examples of "pointless waste" and "stupid spending" Obama cites in the video are unused federal buildings the administration is unloading and smaller examples, such as printing the Federal Register, which, he points out, nobody reads because it’s all available online. The executive order also directs agencies to pursue internal cost-cutting measures, including those related to IT.

And then there are websites, which agencies have been putting up for years.

In the video, Obama talks about consolidating as well as closing websites, and there does seem to be some duplication.

For example, one of the websites offered up during the video is one devoted to the International Polar Year, which started in March 2007 and was extended through March 2009. That site might be considered be superfluous, considering that NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also have sites devoted to IPY.

Another site that gets a little screen time in the video is that of the National Invasive Species Council, which would seem to overlap with the Agriculture Department’s National Invasive Species Information Center.

And as part of the effort to reduce duplication while maintaining transparency, the administration plans to set up a central website that will track government spending across all programs and at all levels, rather than maintaining separate sites.

Still, those are sites specifically chosen as examples. Can there be that many more? One thousand websites would seem to be a lot of duplication and/or fiddling around.

Whether the administration can close that many without eliminating services, useful and vital information, and transparency remains to be seen. But the Internet does have a little less folk music today.

Reader Comments

Fri, Jul 8, 2011

I went to the Social Security web site to take a look at my Social Security Info and the message I got was:

Information Regarding the Social Security Statement

In light of the current budget situation, we have suspended issuing Social
Security Statements.

They are us to something. What does the budget have to do with my account statement? Why can't I see my earnings record or what I and my employers have paid in? What are they trying to hind now?

Maybe you should check yours:
www.socialsecurity.gov/mystatement/

Tue, Jun 21, 2011

Shuttering 1000 federal websites will not save the government any money. The virtual host function of web server software enables web servers to easily support hundreds of independent websites. Almost all of the websites could be hosted from the same web server supporting whitehouse.gov.

Wed, Jun 15, 2011 John Paul Mays Douglas, WY

Seriously, the President believes shutting down 10% of the Government's websites will make a difference in the budget? Wow... unless these sites are costing billions of dollars rather than a couple of million, I do not see how this will even make the slightest difference to anybody, in any way, shape, or form! I think Mr. Obama needs to think bigger!

Wed, Jun 15, 2011 Walter Washington DC

I don't know about you, but without the search function of the computer, it can take ages to find information in the FR. The hard copy weighs a ton and costs money to print and ship. They print many more copies than are ever distributed, and many that are distributed sit on shelves, never used. Updates are printed on a monthly basis. Just the Environmental sections usually weigh in at 50 pounds of paper. Not sure what old people would be doing that heavy lifting. On top of that, you have free access to the electronic version at most public libraries. As to the web sites, hosting is relatively cheap, but someone is updating the site, it is using up government bandwidth, IT contractors don't come cheap and the government doesn't pay enough to have their own IT professionals. That also means we need to pay someone to award the contracts and monitor the contractor and pay invoices. This can tie up several people and cost thousands in resources that may otherwise not be needed. If there is overlap, maybe the agencies can share a site. We also have so many sites that were there for a reason, and when the reason goes away, the site remains. We have military bases that closed and still have web sites. Selling off government buidings not in use saves everyone, and will let a developer or city do something useful with the property, instead of waiting for it to collapse under its own weight.

Wed, Jun 15, 2011

That is great. Y not also consider not allowing the waste of Nancy Pelosi spending all that money for transporting her family & friends back & forth from California to Washington DC. What about the additional waste for the several congressman using their government credit cards for buying iPads & so forth is also ridiculous. What about the useless spending on the Dept. of Energy?

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