Google has been working with federal agencies to help them ensure that their data are accessible through search engines. Many government databases providing critical information or statistics have existed for much longer than the current standards for public Internet accessibility, so the disconnect between search engines and public databases is understandable. There is a clear public benefit, however, when search terms like "Colorado census 1990", "federal childhood immunology standards", "Pennsylvania superfund sites", or "Congressional Record 1930 Stock Market" result in the information the searcher is obviously interested in–government information. (More after the break.)
The solution to this problem is a non-proprietary standard championed by Google, called the sitemap protocol. Implementing this standard helps automated web-crawlers (the stuff of search engines) find their way around your entire site. Given the immense number of government databases and agencies to reach, getting all government information to show up in web searches will take some time–unless you have a flexible bureaucracy, or an administrative commitment to modern digital government. Enter Google’s public policy team, and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee:
The Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee will consider S. 2321, which extends and updates the E-Government Act of 2002. Part of the bill directs the Office of Management and Budget to create guidance and best practices for federal agencies to make their websites more accessible to search engine crawlers, and thus to citizens who rely on search engines to access information provided by their government. It also requires federal agencies to ensure their compliance with that guidance and directs OMB to report annually to Congress on agencies’ progress.
From the bill:
`(i) GUIDELINES- Not later than 1 year after the date of enactment of the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007, the Director shall promulgate guidance and best practices to ensure that publicly available online Federal Government information and services are made more accessible to external search capabilities, including commercial and governmental search capabilities. The guidance and best practices shall include guidelines for each agency to test the accessibility of the websites of that agency to external search capabilities.
This measure will go a long way toward making governmental information relevant to people’s lives, by making them accessible in the places we would first expect to find them.