The Obama administration wants to rethink its digital presence. But first they'll cut unnecessary websites, starting with the Forest Service's band.
The Obama administration's newly inaugurated "Campaign to Cut Waste" had an unlikely first target: The Fiddlin' Foresters, the official folk group of the U.S. Forest Service. The band, whose self-declared mission is to "bring conservation and stewardship messages alive through story and song," made the mistake of hosting its website on a taxpayer-backed .gov domain.
"I'll put their music on my iPod, but I'm not paying for their website," Obama said in the campaign's launch video. If the video piqued your interest in the band's music, too bad. Navigate to FiddlinForesters.gov today, and you'll get a "Not Found" notice in your browser (although a cached version still lives for now). In a symbolic move, the Feds have already terminated the Fiddlers' digital presence, with the larger goal of auditing existing .gov URLs and freezing new ones.
Will cracking down on e-bureaucracy do anything to shrink the deficit? Obama's video promised that his full waste-trimming package would constitute $33 billion in savings, but he left out details on where the big bucks would come from, aside from shedding unused physical (in addition to digital) real estate. As Minnesota Public Radio pointed out, we'd have to cut 138 billion government websites to close the $13.8 trillion deficit at $10-a-pop for website fees. There are only 24,000 websites ending in .gov.
However, it's important to see the administration paying attention to the use of the .gov domain. As the White House blog pointed out, it's harder to spell out what sort of digital presence the government does need than complain about what it doesn't need. Are any .gov websites really that interesting, well-designed, or useful? A cursory glance at government websites for Canada, the United Kingdom, or Sweden makes USA.gov look sterile and out-dated by comparison.
In coming weeks the government plans to publish a list of all its domain names for public perusal. And the administration is calling on all of us to help develop guidelines for government websites of the future. What would your ideal government website look like? You can let the government know here.
Image via the US Forest Service