Federal Web Shortcomings in Plain Site

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When I wrote about federal CIO Vivek Kundra earlier this week, I mentioned the Web sites launched on Kundra's watch. His detractors knock the sites for their costs, while his supporters laud the introduction of the sites during Kundra's six months on the job a major accomplishment, especially considering the government's spotty record on past IT projects.


But concerns about the sites go beyond cost. Seth Grimes, writing on Intelligent Enterprise, calls the USASpending.gov Web site "a travesty, almost a parody of a government transparency site." Because of programming errors, there are numerous errors in graphics on the site. Grimes shows one of the graphics and provides a corrected version that he created by tweaking the Google Chart's API. It isn't just technical errors. The colors on a pie chart don't match the colors and values under the chart. Thus, Grimes writes, "quality assurance work (if any) is poor, and site production is clearly mismanaged."


The site also doesn't adhere to government requirements for information-systems accessibility to persons with disabilities, Grimes points out, even on template-based pages. As IT Business Edge's Susan Hall noted in a story on Web site accessibility, making template-based pages accessible is a relatively simple and inexpensive fix. The site also doesn't provide the interactivity and responsiveness it promised, says Grimes. Kundra's own blog does not allow comments or provide contact information.


These shortcomings are even worse, writes Grimes in another piece published a week later, considering the underlying site technology is several years old. The lack of information on government subcontractors is "a huge site deficiency," due to the prevalent practice of using such organizations, writes Grimes. Keeping tabs on subcontractors is a best practice in outsourcing agreements, as I've written previously, and obviously should be here as well. (One positive in the follow-up: Some of the problems with graphics mentioned in Grimes' first piece had been corrected.)


The federal IT Dashboard is mentioned in more positive terms in a post by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark on The Huffington Post. He links it to what he says is a new sense of empowerment among federal employees. The dashboard "shows everyone what works and what doesn't work" so workers presumably can do more of what works, writes Newmark.


I am not discounting the warm fuzzy the site may give federal workers. Making folks more enthusiastic about their jobs is a good thing. But I agree with Grimes that holding the government accountable for the site's limitations is important in an administration that has stressed accountability to its constituents.