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.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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