The Net makes news

At the recent Interagency Resources Management and
Federal Chief Information Officers Conference in Virginia Beach, Va., White House
technology adviser Tom Kalil asked those in attendance—mostly federal
managers—to send him


their favorite Web sites, “or government Web sites you’d like to see and
why.”


A week later, independent counsel Kenneth Starr released his report to Congress, and
within 48 hours a summary was to be posted to the Thomas Web site operated by the Library
of Congress.


So overwhelming was the anticipated traffic that the posting was mirrored at some dozen
other servers operated by congressional and commercial sites. As GCN reported the
following Monday on our own Web site, Netscape Communications Corp. was among the
companies scrambling for the rights to post the report, arguing that its Web server farm
was among the few with the sheer horsepower required.


Now we know what constitutes a popular government Web site.


No, it’s not only sites carrying the details of a presidential sex scandal. A
little more than a year ago another government site sparked record Internet traffic.
Millions logged onto NASA’s site and its several mirrors in July 1997 to witness
images of the surface of Mars.


Technologically, the Mars mission was far more impressive, with its rich color pictures
coming from literally out of this world. The Starr report, juicy as it may have been, was
just lots of ASCII text.


At IRMCO and at countless other conferences, a conversational subtext is how agencies
can use information technology to not only improve the services they deliver but also to
help boost government credibility.


There’s an ineffable irony here. The government’s own technology was used to
provide full disclosure to the public about a matter that undermines the credibility of
government—at least of elected officials.


But we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Members of both parties in Congress who voted to
put the Starr documents on the Internet had their own, highly political reasons for doing
so. And the White House’s comeback was so quick that the president’s response
hit the Web before the Starr report.


However politically motivated, the postings allowed millions of citizens to make their
own judgments about our elected leaders. For the federal IT community, it was a fine hour.


Thomas R. Temin
Editor
editor@gcn.com

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