A Brutal Self-Assessment of HHS' Web Presence

The Health and Human Services Department's Web footprint is "currently so fractured that no one knows the total annual Departmental investment in Web-related activities," according to a forthright self-assessment recently posted to the agency's main website.

"HHS is an historically siloed entity, and its Web holdings reflect that legacy," the report continued. "The result is a Web experience that is not only antithetical to the concept of customer-centric design but is undeniably wasteful of precious resources. Like and related content is scattered across multiple office and program websites, and the Googling customer is left to divine what content is relevant."

The HHS progress report was delivered to the General Services Administration September 6 as part of the governmentwide Dot-gov reform effort.

The initiative is aimed at rationalizing the federal web presence, which mushroomed during the 1990s and is now bogged down by outdated and clunky sites and a cacophony of different architectures and content management systems. Other agencies don't appear to have made similar progress reports public.

HHS had shut down 21 Web domains when it submitted its report to GSA and had plans to shutter 36 domains by the end of September -- about one-quarter of the agency's total web footprint. Two-thirds of those sites were redirects or aliases for remaining sites, the agency said. The remaining third had long been inactive.

The agency plans to shut down or consolidate 41 additional sites by this summer, a process that will require more planning and many more hard decisions, the report said. Part of that consolidation may come from a proposal to incorporate several topical sites the agency runs, such as Flu.gov into the main government page Usa.gov, the agency said.

About 100 of the government's roughly 1,800 top-level Web domains appear to have been shuttered so far, though the government hasn't released a list of closed sites.

GSA gathered citizen input on what agencies should consider in consolidating and updating their Web presences in a "national dialogue," that closed this week.

The most popular suggestions on the dialogue page included using plain language in federal websites; organizing content around what citizens are looking for rather than what agencies want to push out to the public; and publishing information in more accessible formats than the PDF format preferred by most agencies.