Executive Branch Struggles Online

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In keeping with the previous post on the difficulties the White House is having with creating their tool enabling public comment on bills, there’s this article from the National Journal on how agencies are having a tough time finding their way online due to the morass of rules and regulations keeping them from engaging and a culture that doesn’t prioritize tech projects as key functions. Here are some key paragraphs:

When President Obama signed an executive order instructing federal agencies to disseminate more information online and open more channels for feedback, the media duly applauded while good-government groups breathed a sigh of relief. But agencies are already using social media; most just haven’t been successful.

Bureaucratic inefficiency is partly to blame, as are a handful of outdated and inflexible laws. One of the most onerous and anachronistic, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, requires the Office of Management and Budget to approve any government survey of 10 or more people, meaning a simple online customer satisfaction poll must submit to a months-long review process.

Federal agencies are still struggling with outmoded tech bureaucracies, experts say, which need to be realigned to recognize that the Web is no longer a fun afterthought, but a critical component for public interaction.

It’s difficult to improve government Web sites when they’re viewed “as an IT project rather than as a core business function,” reads a white paper [PDF] written in November for the Obama-Biden transition team by the Federal Web Managers Council.

The white paper also says the government maintains too many Web sites — estimated at 24,000, though “no one knows the exact number” — and that too few of those sites have a dedicated budget or editors in chief who focus on improving content. Changing all that will take money and time — more time, government technology gurus say, than the 120 days that OMB and the administration’s still-unnamed chief technology officer are given under Obama’s order to formulate a federal Web strategy.

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