Federal webmasters get a little respect

Federal webmasters get a little respect

BY SUSAN M. MENKE | GCN STAFF

Federal webmasters and developers got a look at the future of the Web and its increasing influence on government this month at the FedWeb2001 conference in Bethesda, Md.

Agency Web architects said they knew their political visibility was rising when they were suddenly required in January to make archival snapshots of their work at the end of the Clinton administration [GCN, March 5, Page 7].

Another indicator of the federal Web's visibility is the Office of Personnel Management's pending reclassification standard for webmaster jobs, said Ira S. Hobbs, acting chief information officer at the Agriculture Department.

'The CIO Council has been working for this,' Hobbs said.

Perhaps the most revolutionary indicator of federal Web status was a comment by Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s Judy Douglas: 'Success is measured by the number of complaints.'

Complaints are good, she said, because they mean citizens are paying close attention to electronic-government services and demanding a better fit for their needs.

America Online Inc.'s James Vaughn said a recent AOL poll showed that 72 percent of 992 persons surveyed had visited government sites, but 58 percent found them difficult to use.


SSA's Tony Trenkle says the agency might take its payments electronic via either PKI
or Treasury's Pay.gov portal.


Know where to go

That user-unfriendliness is changing fast.
'Portals will be organized by tasks and by demographics,' Vaughn said, no longer by internal agency structure. 'Where to go will be apparent at the first view.'

FirstGov, the award-winning governmentwide index portal, is the forerunner, Hobbs said. 'We're not sure what will come of it. It narrows things down; it's a necessary first step.'

He and others said agencies should redesign their Web sites to answer citizens' most-asked questions. USDA 'gets a lot of calls every autumn asking for safe ways to roast a turkey,' Hobbs said. 'A portal should think like a citizen'how do you roast a turkey, how do you find out where to renew your driver's license?'

To that end, he said, federal CIOs are lobbying state and local systems executives to let FirstGov 'spider out' to index their 'jurisdictions' information in addition to its 30 million federal pages.

FirstGov's Bev Godwin said focus groups, not agency officials, chose the 16 main topics on the home page. 'You can't yet find government services by your ZIP code,' she said, 'but the public doesn't know or care which agency or branch of government provides the services.'

The next step, Godwin said, is to personalize Web pages around life events such as births, marriages, retirements, household moves and so on.



What's ahead on the Web front for the government

' New concepts such as peer space and content network for tagging distributed, dissimilar data stores in Extensible Markup Language for easier searching

' A comprehensive government job portal using the XML Schema to accept and route applicants' resumes to interested agencies

' Personalized subscription services for citizens

' Surveys and user chat sessions to troubleshoot features

' An overall tool to check for compliance with requirements for privacy, accessibility, security, and the Freedom of Information, Government Performance and Results, and Government Paperwork Elimination acts

' Virtual transactions to comply with
GPEA, using digital certificates and emerging infrastructures such as the Environmental Protection Agency's Central Data Exchange

' One-stop gateways such as MapStats.gov and FedStats.gov, which organize and retrieve information from more than 100 agencies' servers



The Social Security Administration took a step in that direction last month, when it gave online applicants for retirement benefits the chance to select passwords and eight-digit personal identifiers for making Web transactions.

Those users are the first ever to access their personal information on SSA computers.
Password-PIN authentication will soon expand to telephone transactions with SSA.

Transactions are tight

'We have a limited number of transactions for retirement planning, retirement applications and change of address,' said Tony Trenkle, the deputy assistant commissioner for electronic services.
'In the next year or two, we'll move to digital signatures and electronic proofs [of identity] that we plan to exchange with several states.'

Although transaction capacity is limited so far, and the site is not yet available 24 hours a day, Trenkle said the number of online users of www.ssa.gov will increase to about 20 million this year. The agency's eNews e-mail newsletter, which SSA began a year ago, has 120,000 subscribers'one of the world's largest mail lists.

'Most services will be online by 2003,' Trenkle said. 'We're testing public-key infrastructure and the Treasury Department's Pay.gov [financial portal], still formulating where we will go and assessing the authentication risks.'

SSA disburses $400 billion per year through Treasury to 50 million beneficiaries'the government's largest single budget category.

'We will identify you by knowledge-based elements,' Trenkle said. 'We have a pretty good idea who you are.'

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