Ad­min­is­tra­tion fails to cut fed­eral waste on the Web

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

It was one of Pres­i­dent Obama’s mar­quee pledges for cut­ting waste, an ad­min­is­tra­tion team un­der the direc­tion of Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Bi­den would slash the pro­lif­er­at­ing num­ber of fed­eral web­sites in half within a year.

Mid-June marked the year’s end, and Mr. Obama has fallen well short of the tar­get, hav­ing cut only 281 do­mains, or fewer than a third of his orig­i­nal goal.

The prun­ing is mov­ing at a slow rate de­spite sta­tis­tics in­di­cat­ing that many of the pages on the govern­ment’s web­sites gen­er­ate lit­tle or no traf­fic, in­clud­ing at least one site on which a ma­jor­ity of the pages had not at­tracted a sin­gle click in the pre­vi­ous halfyear prior to the re­view.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Bi­den an­nounced their “Cam­paign to Cut Waste” last June amid the spend­ing and debt de­bates on Capi­tol Hill. Mr. Obama even signed an ex­ec­u­tive order to add some heft to the drive, and Mr. Bi­den said they were “putting Wash­ing­ton on no­tice” that no waste was ac­cept­able, even in cy­berspace.

The ef­fort has stalled, though. Some agen­cies said they have cut enough, and other of­fices, in­clud­ing one over­seen by Mr. Bi­den, are adding Web do­mains to the govern­ment’s list.

The web­site fail­ure is the lat­est in a se­ries of gov­ern­ment­cut­ting goals the ad­min­is­tra­tion has made, to much fan­fare, but for which crit­ics say it has shown less en­thu­si­asm in the fol­low-through.

Sen. Tom Coburn, the top Se­nate waste-watcher, whose of­fice re­quested a Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice re­port de­tail­ing the web­site short­fall, said it’s be­com­ing a pat­tern.

“Like many well-in­tended calls to ac­tion, the ad­min­is­tra- tion’s cam­paign to cut waste in the bud­get was, un­for­tu­nately, short-lived,” said Mr. Coburn, Ok­la­homa Repub­li­can. “If we can’t do some­thing as sim­ple as con­sol­i­dat­ing web­sites that pro­mote elim­i­nat­ing waste­ful spend­ing, we are go­ing to have a very tough time tack­ling big­ger chal­lenges.”

Do­mains are the top-level pages, such as www.white­ and Last year, when Mr. Obama set his goal, 1,759 do­mains were regis­tered as .gov sites.

In the first three months, the govern­ment made good progress by elim­i­nat­ing nearly 150 sites, but the pace then stalled. Fewer than 100 were cut dur­ing the sub­se­quent six cut­ting ini­tia­tive. Ms. Har­ri­son said, that means in­for­ma­tion gets spread across dif­fer­ent of­fices and de­part­ments, and makes it tough on the cus­tomers.

“What causes/sus­tains this prob­lem? To be blunt, egos,” she said in an email.

She said ex­ec­u­tives want their own web­sites for their ini­tia­tives, and those in charge of govern­ment web­sites don’t say “No” enough. She also said ex­ec­u­tives have no in­cen­tives to work with col­leagues in other agen­cies to stream­line the fed­eral govern­ment’s Web pro­file.

Ms. Har­ri­son said some of her friends looked at Web stats and found that a high per­cent­age of pages are get­ting lit­tle or

Pres­i­dent Obama and Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den an­nounced their “Cam­paign to Cut Waste” last June amid the spend­ing and debt de­bates on Capi­tol Hill. The ef­fort has stalled, though. Some agen­cies said they have cut enough, and other of­fices, in­clud­ing one over­seen by Mr. Bi­den, are adding Web do­mains to the govern­ment’s list.

months and fewer than 50 in the fi­nal three months, leav­ing the to­tal at 1,478.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion wouldn’t comment on the holdup, nor would of­fi­cials talk about set­ting a new tar­get date for meet­ing the pres­i­dent’s goal. But they took an op­ti­mistic view about the work go­ing for­ward.

“Agen­cies have elim­i­nated or iden­ti­fied for elim­i­na­tion nearly 600 Web do­mains, but there is still more work to be done,” Danny Wer­fel, fed­eral con­troller at the Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get, said in a state­ment pro­vided to The Wash­ing­ton Times. “Agen­cies are con­tin­u­ing to drive fur­ther ef­forts to elim­i­nate un­nec­es­sary .gov do­mains and at the same time en­able Amer­i­cans to ac­cess in­for­ma­tion and ser­vices of the fed­eral govern­ment more eas­ily than ever be­fore.”

The web­site re­duc­tion was the most prom­i­nent of the pres­i­dent’s pledges, but not the only one. Mr. Obama called for other sav­ings in con­tract­ing and ba­sic op­er­a­tions.

Progress has been made on those. White House of­fi­cials say they have cut bil­lions of dol­lars out of ad­min­is­tra­tive costs, are sell­ing off un­used govern­ment prop­erty and are on track to meet the pres­i­dent’s goal of sav­ing $8 bil­lion by the end of this year.

They are also pro­ceed­ing with a broad ini­tia­tive to try to clean up and con­sol­i­date govern­ment web­sites and of­fer more ser vices for mo­bile phones, of­fi­cials said.

Candi Har­ri­son, a former web­site man­ager for the Depart­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment who now blogs on govern­ment Web is­sues, said the prob­lem isn’t so much the num­ber of do­mains, but rather a gen­er­ally chaotic ap­proach to the Web.

Many de­part­ments and agen­cies don’t have of­ficewide Web poli­cies, ac­cord­ing to plans they sub­mit­ted as part of the waste- no traf­fic. In one case, 60 per­cent of pages had zero views in six months prior to the re­view.

“Edit­ing, edit­ing, edit­ing is the key,” she said. “And then merg­ing/con­sol­i­dat­ing is the next step. And then mak­ing sure what’s left is writ­ten in plain lan­guage so cus­tomers can un­der­stand it once they find it.”

As for the do­main-cut­ting, progress has been un­even, and the lure of web­sites is tough to re­sist.

The Con­sumer Fi­nan­cial Pro­tec­tion Bureau, which was cre­ated in July 2010, has regis­tered 10 do­main names since it opened its doors last year. All of the do­mains are close to the bureau’s name, ap­par­ently in a bid to cap­ture po­ten­tial per­mu­ta­tions, such as con­sumerfin a n c e . g o v , con­sumer­fi­nan­ and con­sumer­pro­tec­

In a state­ment to The Times, the agency said the du­pli­ca­tion is war­ranted “to help en­sure con­sumers can find the CFPB site.” The bureau also said it has no plans to cull the list.

The Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment has done the most of any of­fice by re­duc­ing its do­main names from 34 to 17. Among big fed­eral agen­cies, the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion was sec­ond, go­ing from 14 to eight, while the Home­land Security Depart­ment cut 38 per­cent, from 58 to 36.

Sev­eral of­fices have gone in the other direc­tion.

The Re­cov­ery Ac­count­abil­ity and Trans­parency Board, which Mr. Bi­den him­self over­sees, has added a Web do­main in the past year:­count­abil­ityand­trans­ The site does not ap­pear to be ac­tive, so it’s not clear what it would add to the col­lec­tion of nine other do­mains run by the board, in­clud­ing, and

The White House didn’t re­spond to ques­tions about the board’s new site.

The Fed­eral Re­serve Sys­tem also cre­ated a site over the past year named fed­cen­ten­, one of sev­eral do­mains the cen­tral bank has re­served in an­tic­i­pa­tion of com­mem­o­rat­ing its 100th year in 2013. The board said it is keep­ing those op­tions for now as it tries to fig­ure out how to show­case the Fed’s his­tory on the In­ter­net.

The Fed is also an in­de­pen­dent of­fice with its own fund­ing, leav­ing it in a some­what dif­fer­ent po­si­tion from most ex­ec­u­tive branch de­part­ments and agen­cies.

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