GSA, OMB seek new boundaries for Web analytics

Friday - 10/29/2010, 6:55am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration and the Office of Management and Budget want to overcome the limits on Web analytics imposed by the Paperwork Reduction Act.

Dave McClure, associate administrator of the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies at the General Services Administration, said there is a new push to expand the boundaries of what federal Web managers can learn about the people who use their websites.

Federal Web managers have a special, daily challenge that their private sector counterparts don't face: balancing the need for in-depth Web analytics to see who is using their sites and how they use them, against rules and regulations designed to protect citizen privacy.

"It's just started, a dialogue between the Office of Management and Budget and the agencies on what could be done to revise the policies regarding the PRA where you're collecting feedback either online, paper, mail, whatever, from citizens regarding their experience," he said. "Those have to go through a clearance process in which they're vetted through OMB, and there's a burden reduction test that's used on whether you clearly know what you're doing with it, what you're going to do with it and what's the value proposition."

McClure said it's a very frustrating limitation in an environment where Web managers are eager to get instantaneous feedback on their websites, especially since their counterparts in the private sector are under no such strict limitations of the law. And he said during the ForeSee Results Digital Citizen Satisfaction Summit on Thursday that the goal is to speed up the process.

"There's a process underway to create a fast-track clearance process for many types of voluntary information we collect to get citizen feedback on online experiences," he said. "And we're talking about those fast-track clearances occurring in single-digit days, not in months."

McClure said GSA is monitoring several trends among Web tools that are coming. One of the hottest areas, he said, for both the private and public sector, is mobile.

"Today's information is increasingly being delivered to the greatest part of our population through mobile devices," McClure said. "It may be text or SMS oriented, but the take-up of smartphones is a double-digit growth market. We know we expand the growth of government when we do it through mobile devices because it reaches populations which we might otherwise say are excluded."

Along those lines, McClure said the newly revamped USA.gov website is serving as a showcase for about two dozen of the government's own mobile apps.

"Some of them already existed, but they were buried websites below the main portal, and trying to get there was a task," he said. "So we've elevated some of these for more use and recognition."

McClure said the "MyTSA" mobile app, which "gives you the (security scanner) wait times at most major airports based on crowdsourced information from people standing in line" as an example of delivering information through mobile platforms.

He also said the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Product Recall app is available, which lets users go into a store, enter the product model number and find out if there is an open recall for the item.

GSA is exploring possible uses of cutting edge Web technologies such as Red Laser, which would allow someone to use the camera on their smartphone to photograph a bar code, and automatically receive information on a product recall on their mobile device.

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