Congratulations are in order for the FCC, which today celebrates five years since it last updated its online docket search system, ECFS. If you look at the bottom of the main search page, you will see the mark of this amazing feat: “updated 12/11/03″. In internet years that like a century. Kudos!
Yesterday at the Cato Institute panel on online transparency (video forthcoming here) I laid into the FCC for being an agency that’s supposed to be tech savvy, but that continues to have an online presence that is absolutely abysmal. Their docketing system is the agency’s lifeblood and yet there is no full-text search, there are no data feeds, and their robots.txt file is set to exclude search crawlers. This is totally unacceptable and I hope a tech-savvy Obama FCC will revamp the site.
Today the Washington Post features Google’s push to modernize government sites to allow it and other commercial search engines to index those sites:
[T]he U.S. government, one of the world’s largest depositories of data, has been unwilling or unable to make millions of its Web pages accessible [to search engines]. “The vast majority of information is still not searchable or findable either because it’s not published or it’s on Web sites which the government has put up which no one can index,” Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said during a recent presentation at the New America Foundation. … Today, a wide array of public information remains largely invisible to the search engines, and therefore to the general public, because it is held in such a way that the Web search engines of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft can’t find it and index it. Not surprisingly, Yahoo and Microsoft officials agree that people would be better served if more public information became accessible to their search engines.
While an Obama administration could help solve this problem administratively by implementing Google’s sitemap scheme, Congress could also mandate that agencies make their data searchable. That’s exactly one of the thing that the Joe Lieberman-sponsored E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 would do. Take your pick, just give us the data!