GSA launches advisory Web page for government's mobile apps

The government has doubled down on its commitment to using mobile technology to reach citizens with the launch this week of Mobile Gov, a General Services Administration Web page.

The new page is partly a report on how government has used mobile so far, partly a how-to guide for the future and partly polemic about the possibilities mobile presents.

The site also is aimed at managing the growth of government mobile apps in a more structured way than it oversaw the 1990s-era proliferation of government websites, which it said "grew like kudzu . . . creating not only great services but also, in many cases, redundancies that confused citizens and consumed resources."

The White House recently ordered a freeze on all new federal websites while it considers ways to trim the government's Web footprint. The Mobile Gov page is only a portal within the GSA site, so it is not subject to the freeze, a spokeswoman for the project said.

Beyond simply being portable, mobile apps can offer a deeper layer of service, the Mobile Gov page said, by utilizing Global Positioning Systems and other standard cellular features.

The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has a feature on its mobile app that allows people to find the nearest post office. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has an application that helps disaster victims find services and shelter when their electricity is out but they still have a cellphone charge.

The heavily hyperlinked Mobile Gov page also quotes more than a half-dozen surveys about the rise of U.S. mobile phone use -- which will overtake computer use within the next five years -- and describes federal agencies' mobile success stories., the government's Spanish-language site, for instance, saw a 200 percent increase in traffic to its mobile site between 2010 and 2011. About one-fifth of the traffic going to the Agriculture Department's food safety website was diverted to its mobile version within a week of the version's launch, the site said.

The Mobile Gov page was spawned by the Mobile Gov community of practice, a cross-agency working group aimed at increasing citizens' access to government. It's accompanied by a video testimonial from community member and Education Department employee Abraham Marinez, who begins by calling mobile "the way of the world" and adds it can "help government be more efficient and propel innovation in citizen services."

The site also touts other government apps, including:

--A Federal Communication Commission app that allows users to test the speed of their broadband Internet

-- An app from the Bureau of Engraving that enables the visually impaired to scan paper money to verify its denomination

-- A vitamin tracker app from the National Institutes of Health's Office of Dietary Supplements

--And a coaching app from the Veterans Affairs Department for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder

Mobile Gov now plans to develop criteria to separate good government apps from bad ones and to foster interagency cooperation on apps that pull from more than one agency's expertise, the group said.