Upgrading Government Web Sites

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 2009-04-13 Print this article Print

All levels of government are using green IT, Web services and data management to better serve citizens and, hopefully, save money in the process.

In the “old” days—say, 1999—government agencies generally used the Internet in a relatively passive way, with Web sites that were fairly static. Most sites simply hosted directory information, mission statements and perhaps some press releases.

Flash forward 10 years: Government agencies can no longer be accused of being passive. Many are aggressively pursuing the latest, most interactive tools available to engage citizens, improve services and coordinate various agency missions. As a result, concepts such as

Web 2.0 have emerged as a mantra in many public-sector circles.

Consider these examples involving various government entities:

• GovTwit.com, a directory listing government agencies using Twitter, includes numerous Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies—not to mention state and local governments.

• Phil Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County, Mich., creates podcasts, streaming video and blogs using tools from GovDelivery to get out the latest word about what his office is doing.

• At the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy has launched the AIDS.gov blog. The agency uses an IT solution from PBwiki to track content edits and additions among staff members posting content, such as interviews with research scientists. The site also features regular podcasts on the latest developments in AIDS-related programs.

• The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is also discovering new ways to use various online resources to serve citizens. Specifically, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, HUD is now using a Web-based solution to launch what it calls the National Housing Locator System. The system, from Citizant, allows the department’s staff members to go online and quickly find available housing for people who are displaced from their homes by natural disasters.

Before and during Katrina, HUD first responders had to scramble among many scattered online resources to track down available housing for victims. But now, HUD—as well as the state and local agencies it works with in times of disaster, and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials—can access the housing locator system to find vacant housing leads from more than a hundred government and commercial sources, including ApartmenTime.com, Socialserve.com, Gosection8.com and dozens of local housing authorities.

“After Katrina, a White House report revealed large gaps in this process,” says Lisa Schlosser, CIO of HUD. “There was no one-stop shop where we could find available rental properties.

“If we had someone who needed a place that was disabled accessible and allowed pets, we’d go to one site that listed properties that had disabled access, but it wouldn’t have any information about pets. Then another site would allow us to search for places that allowed pets, but wouldn’t have any information about disabled access. Now, we have all of this and more, on one searchable site.”

• HUD is also aggressively pursuing social media tools to help it better communicate its services to the public. These efforts include the use of online blogs and sites such as YouTube.

“It’s ironic, because it wasn’t too long ago that many government agencies restricted employees from accessing these kinds of social networking outlets online,” Schlosser says. “But, in 2009, we anticipate posting video shorts about housing on YouTube, and posting updates about what we’re doing on blogs.

“It will be a great way to get the word out about the latest in new housing legislation and recent mortgage insurance programs and even give guidance on how to refinance into a fixed-rate loan. If there are people who are in danger of getting foreclosed, we can use these tools to help them find a more secure housing solution.”

Clearly, all levels of government are considering using advanced technology to better serve their constituents and, hopefully, save money in the process.

Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
eWeek eWeek

Have the latest technology news and resources emailed to you everyday.