The Web Development in the US Government
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Thao Mong Le (*)
tle@gatewayone.com
Computing Engineering, Inc.
http://www.gatewayone.com/~cei/

Abstract

World Wide Web (WWW or Web) is an information system on the Internet. The popularity of Web has extended to the federal government who sees Web as an attractive tool for allowing its agencies to share information, permit more communication between the government and the public, and review and purchase vendors’ products and services electronically. Today most federal government agencies are establishing and maintaining their own Web sites on the Internet to assimilate and disseminate information related to agency and governmental activities. This paper provides an overview of Web development in the US government.

Introduction

One of the latest advancements on the Internet is the wide scale deployment of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web). Web is an information system on the Internet that uses a standard protocol (HTTP) and a standard format for describing the structure of documents (HTML). Web also interfaces with other standard protocols (e.g., FTP, Telnet, NNTP, WAIS, gopher) and their data formats. Web uses the hypertext, or hypermedia, concept, where references within a document become the jumping-off points to other documents or resources to give universal access to a large universe of documents. Web merges the techniques of networked information retrieval and hypertext to form a powerful but easy-to-use seamless information system that is accessible to any Internet user.

Introduced in 1992 by CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland, Web, originally aimed at the High Energy Physics community, has spread to other areas and attracted much interest in user support, resource discovery and collaborative work areas. Originally developed to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams, and the dissemination of information by support groups, today, Web is the most advanced information system deployed on the Internet. It also embraces within its data model most information contained available in previous networked information systems.

The Web has attracted much interest and support from the Internet users who view Web as a powerful tool for assimilating, sharing, and disseminating information to a global community. From early 1993 to January 1995, the number of Web servers grew from 163 to over 15,000 in the United States (US) alone. Its popularity has extended to the corporate and government sectors who see Web as an attractive tool for allowing customers to review activities and services electronically.

The emergence of Web as an easy-to-use information dissemination tool has hastened the development of Web sites by government agencies. Today, most federal agencies have established one or more Web sites on the Internet. A typical Web site contains of many Web pages providing information on the mission and specific program areas of the hosting agency. In most cases, the host Web page contains hyperlinks to related Web pages established by other government, industry, and academic entities, that in turn will provide additional information to users in a seamless manner.

To make it easier for a taxpayer to search for information and resources related to government services, today most federal government agencies are establishing and maintaining their own Web sites on the Internet to assimilate and disseminate information related to agency and governmental activities. The ultimate goal for establishing such a Web development is to provide an access point for any taxpayer to search for and obtain the desired information related to federal agency’s activities in a timely manner. The federal Web pages either provide information on applicable government initiatives, or reference links to other Web pages established by different agencies that will in turn provide the information.

Web and Internet

The Web allows a user to access other Internet front ends, navigators, information, services, and resources. Web is a part of the Internet, an international network of networks. The Internet is a global information network consisting of tens of thousands of interconnected computer networks that supports the worldwide electronic information society. The network allows millions of computers to be linked together using a common set of technical protocols, providing a medium to allow government agencies, corporate and private enterprises, education and research communities, and individuals from all over the world to communicate and share information and resources. The number of Web users, including those from government agencies and commercial entities, is growing at an at a phenomenal rate, no one knows exactly how big it is, but as of May 25, 1996 Internet Solutions estimated there were 59,628,024 people on the Internet, and an estimated 304,177 Web sites on the Internet, with the government taking a prominent position on the information superhighway.

A Web site often consists of many webpages. Theoretically, a well designed webpage can provide one-stop access and allows a user to search for the desired information without having to exit the webpage. This is not the case for most webpages. The reality is that most users will spend an inordinate amount of time searching through the available webpages for the desired information. The exponential growth in the number of webpages will only exasperate this problem.

Today, the Web plays an important role in the growth of the Internet. Web makes the Internet easier to use to access e-mail, interactive conferences, network news, and is rich with information resources. Web provides a graphical interface (on many platforms), supports multimedia (sound, video, as well as graphics), and uses the same tools as the Internet, but hides the "ugly "details. Web allows an Internet user to access information more easily and makes it easier to provide information. Web has become a standard method of providing distributed information to many different platforms. Web merges the techniques of networked information and hypertext to form a powerful but easy-to-use seamless information system that is accessible to any Internet user. Web tools, such as Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, offer a user-friendly, graphical, point-and-click menu, rather than the arcane command-line interface.

The Growth of Web Development

The federal government recognizes that the medium that would serve as an ideal, arm-chair access point for taxpayers to easily and quickly access government information available is the Web. Currently, there are thousands of Web servers in the federal government alone. The volume of information available is huge, and is growing rapidly. Many of the federal government agencies are on the Web today, with many others joining daily. The amount of data being sent over the Internet via Web and its phenomenal rate of growth are hard to comprehend. Per a study conducted by Network Wizards, Inc., (see result summary) the rate of Web's growth has been and continues to be exponential, but is slowing in it's rate of growth. For the second half of 1993, Web had a doubling period of under 3 months, and even today the doubling period is still under 6 months. Table 1 and Figure 1 show the growth in number of WWW site between June 1993 to January 1997 in the US.
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Table 1 - Results Summary
 
 
Month Number of Web Sites Percentage (%) .COM Sites Hosts per Web Server
June 1993 130 1.5 13,000
December 1993 623 4.6 3,475
June 1994 2,738 13.5 1,095
December 1994 10,022 18.3 451
June 1995 23,500 31.3 270
January 1996 100,000 50.0 94
June 1996 230,000  68.0 41
January 1997 850,000 62.0 NA
 
 

 

Figure 1 - The growth in number of WWW sites (6/93-1/97) in the US.
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Within the federal government, all of the larger agencies have either established or are contemplating setting up one or more Web servers. This phenomenon will probably spread to the smaller agencies once they realize the mass information dissemination potential of Web. The increase in the number of Web sites on the Internet may make it more and more difficult and time consuming for the users to navigate the network to search for the desired information. This is especially true for topic areas that are government-wide in nature, such as those initiatives addressed by the National Performance Review and other interagency and intergovernmental panels, committees and working groups.

Roles of Web in the Federal World

On the Web, a user can access information from many diverse sources. This information is on many different computing platforms. The mechanisms of Web take care of getting, moving and presenting the information that an Internet user needs. Web is used in many creative and interesting ways today, and new uses are being introduced nearly daily. A Web page often contains links used for external communication, to share product information, to learn about the marketplace, to share in process work with business partners, and for internal sharing of information.

 During the past year, many federal organizations have seriously developed the Web. These Web sites bring the most humdrum federal information to life. Today, most federal agencies have offices with many staff members to daily update and maintain their Web pages. In general, the establishment of Web pages to support agency and governmental activities offer various benefits, which may include:

Exploring Federal Web

The Web development in the Federal government is growing at a phenomenal rate. In less than three years, the government has launched over 1,000 Web sites, and the number continues to rise. The Web pages developed by various the federal government agencies allow a taxpayer to get information related to government activities and services. These Web pages deliver information over the Internet in an easy-to-read, multimedia format and lets users browse various sources of information with the click of a mouse.

In July 1995, nearly 1,000 representatives from over 40 federal agencies gathered in Alexandria, VA for their first intensive information Web workshops and seminars. The government "Web Masters" set up a consortium to exchange techniques and enhance federal Web pages. Today, many departments and agencies of the three federal government branches (Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary), have put a serious effort to develop their Web pages, which offer vast repositories of data and graphics with daily updated information. Executive branch agencies are currently dominate and rule the federal Web. Table 2 provides the Web sites addresses of major federal agencies. Clicking on these on-line Web pages, the federal hyperlinked world is virtually endless.

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Table 2: Web Sites Addresses of Major Federal Agencies
 
Agricuture: http://www.usda.gov NIST: http://www.nist.gov
Commerce: http://www.doc.gov NOAA: http://www.noaa.gov
Census: http://www.census.gov NSF: http://www.nsf.gov
DoD: http://www.dtic.dla.mil/defenselink NPR: http://www.npr.gov
Education: http://www.ed.gov OPM: http://www.opm.gov
Energy: http://www.doe.gov Postal Service: http://www.usps.gov
EPA: http://www.epa.gov SBA: http://www.sba.gov
FDA: http://www.fda.gov SEC: http://www.sec.gov
FDIC: http://www.fdic.gov Smithsonian: http://www.si.edu
FTC: http://www.ftc.gov SSA: http://www.ssa.gov
GAO: http://www.gao.gov State: http://www.state.gov
GPO: http://www.gpo.gov Transportation: http://www.dot.gov
GSA: http://www.gsa.gov Treasury: http://www.ustreas.gov
HHS: http://www.dhhs.gov USIA: http://www.usia.gov
HUD: http://www.hud.gov USGS: http://www.usgs.gov
DOI: http://www.doi.gov VA: http://www.va.gov
Justice: http://www.usdoj.gov White House: http://www.whitehouse.gov
Labor: http://www.dol.gov House: http://www.house.gov
LOC: http://www.loc.gov Senate: http://www.senate.gov
NASA: http://www.nasa.gov US Courts: htpp://www.uscourts.gov
NIH: http://www.nih.gov FedWorld: http://www.fedworld.gov
   
There are a number of books offering information about the government Web development. Two books: (1) Washington Online: How to Access the Federal Government on the Internet;  and (2) The Federal Internet Source, are good starting points for exploration of the Web development in the federal world.

A Case Study: FedWorld

In 1992, in just 68 days for an initial cost of about $40,000, the National Technical Information Service (NTIS) created FedWorld to experiment with online information dissemination and test customer reaction to this type of service. As a result of overwhelming demand, FedWorld has become a central and growing component of the suite of information dissemination services offered to the public. In 1994, President Clinton signed an act providing NTIS $8 million for capital investments to improve FedWorld, and FedWorld is growing. Today, an Internet user or anyone with a computer and a modem can connect to FedWorld.

FedWorld provides the general public with a user-friendly, central resource for government information in electronic formats. Currently serving 25,000 customers daily, FedWorld offers customers a choice of user platforms -- dial-up, telnet, file transfer protocol (FTP), and Web. The FedWorld user community includes scientists, engineers, business people, librarians, and information specialists in government, academia, and the general public. The FedWorld Web connects government employees and ordinary taxpayers to each other. Since FedWorld is self-supporting, there is a charge for access to some documents, payable by credit card when accessing FedWorld service.

FedWorld offers various services using Web. The Davis-Bacon Act Database (DOL/NTIS) service, for example, allows an Internet user to learn about and search more than 2,000 government records with wage information for various jobs. FedWorld offers a fully searchable database, documents of recent government regulations, tax forms and instructions, reports, studies and information products sent to NTIS within the last 30 days.  FedWorld Government Information Servers provide searchable lists of Web servers organized by NTIS subject categories. FedWorld Government Information Locator Service (U.S. GILS) allows a Web user to search abstracts that describe information products and projects available developed by the federal government.

The FedWorld Web is not only to allow a user to view and read a government document on-line, but also allows downloading of files using FTP. The FedWorld FTP site consisting of various types of government information, such as policy, regulation, and reports, allows a user to access to FedWorld File Libraries with more than 15,000 files. The FedWorld Dialup/Telnet site, the original FedWorld online service, offers access to detailed information from over 50 agencies, including access to online ordering services, and federal job opportunities. Moreover, the FedWorld Telnet allows a user to directly access over 100 different government information systems that are normally only available via a modem.

FedWorld also hosts many other Web sites. Some of these are National Technical Information Service (NTIS); EPA Clean Air Act Database (EPA); EC, EDI & CALS Resource Locator Web Page (NTIS); Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC); Internal Revenue Service (Department of the Treasury); Services for Federal Agencies (NTIS); National Performance Review (Executive Office of the President); and U.S. Business Advisor (NTIS, SBA, NPR and others). The success of FedWorld stems from NTIS' unusual mandate as a government agency. FedWorld can best measure its success by the continuous and growing use of its services. As a mission, FedWorld allows an Web user to be able to access valuable government information.

Conclusion

The successful Web development in the federal government created a structure for policy, regulation, guidance, scientific, technical, engineering and business-related information dissemination to the public. The federal Web user community includes taxpayers, scientists, engineers, business people, librarians, and information specialists in government, academia, and the general public.

Many federal government agencies are constantly seeking ways to better serve their user communities through enhancement of the products and services they provide. The Web sites will support these agencies to obtain these goals. The federal government recognizes that Web allows taxpayers to be easier to locate, access, and receive various government information, and Web provides a better communication medium between the federal government employees and taxpayers.

Reference

1.  Government Branches Out On-Line, Babara J. Saffir, the Washington Post, 8/29/95
2.  Federal Government Online: Agency Information on Fedworld, Barbara J. Saffir and Ann Grimes, The Washington Post, August 31, 1994
3.  Information about FedWorld, Technology Administration U.S. Department of Commerce (http://www.fedworld.gov/ntis/npr.htm)
4. The Beauty of Internet, Thao M. Le, VACETS Technical Journal, Volume 1, 2/96
5.  Exploring Federal Web Sites, Babara J. Saffir, The Washington Post, August 28, 1995
 
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The author would like to thank Ms. Loan Le, who helped to do research on preparing this technical paper.