The White House is stepping up its efforts to bring government technology more in line with the private sector, unveiling an updated Web portal for government information and a spate of mobile apps designed to broaden access to federal data.
The General Services Administration on Friday debuted a revamped USA.gov, boasting a new user interface that resembles the format of popular commercial Web portals like Yahoo and MSN.
The redesign, which furthers the administration’s broad-ranging work modernize the government’s presence on the Web, transforms what senior White House officials described as a relic of primitive era of online design.
“It [was] essentially just a collection of links with a bunch of pictures thrown up there,” Federal CIO Vivek Kundra told reporters on a conference call this week. “It has been engineered, unfortunately, for the bureaucracy rather than the American people.”
In addition to the website redesign, USA.gov is rolling out a series of mobile apps that aim to present relevant government information in a user-friendly format, following the manner in which popular commercial app stores have been transforming the way people have come to rely on smartphones and other wireless devices.
An iPhone app from the Transportation Safety Administration, for instance, offers travelers real-time airport information about flight schedules, packing tips and guidelines about what materials passengers are permitted to carry on airplanes.
Similarly, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has developed an Android app that supplies the information about product recalls and safety advisories from the website Recall.gov.
“It’s a site that’s been engineered with the American people in mind,” Kundra said of the revamped USA.gov and the mobile apps. “The way they access information and demand services are no longer on a website tethered to an agency.”
The apps unveiled today are a modest down payment on what administration officials envision growing into a vibrant ecosystem for accessing government pertinent on the go. Kundra reiterated the administration’s ardent belief that the future of the Web will be broadly shaped by mobility, evidenced earlier this week by a White House directive to expand the wireless spectrum available for available data networks.
More broadly, the new site and the accompanying mobile apps represent what administration officials describe as the far-reaching initiative to close the technology gap between the government and the private sector. Those efforts have seen the expansion of social media technologies across the agencies, along with a host of new blogs, RSS feeds and online events such as town hall meetings hosted by the president.
The new mobile apps for USA.gov extend that mission by mimicking the app stores offered by the leading wireless platforms.
“The federal government for the most part has missed out on these gains because it’s too often failed to take advantage of information technology,” said Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.
All of the new apps were developed in house, but over time, the agencies are expected to enlist the services of third-party developers to create government-authorized extensions of the data housed in the more than 24,000 federal websites.
“We’re not going to build all the apps,” Kundra said. “We … recognize that we don’t have a monopoly on the best ideas.”
Kenneth Corbin is an associate editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.