The government needs a portal-of-portals portal
Creation of new federal web sites under the Obama administration has reached warp speed. So much so that even the main federal portal, usa.gov, can’t keep up with them. For the most part, the new sites are of interest mainly to the hordes of interest groups that already keep tabs on this or that agency.
Two sites in the news recently got me to thinking. When it comes to one branch of federal online service, I would like to make the case for a single portal. If you go to USA.gov, within a couple of clicks you get to all of the consumer guides and protective links. There are 101 of them.
Last week, the Federal Trade Commission came out with its annual report on the complaints it received. Its collection site, Consumer Sentinel, logged more than 1.3 million complaints year about financial products and services.
Also last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission proceeded with somewhat controversial plans for an online system for consumers to send in complaints about products under the CPSC’s jurisdiction, Safer Products.org. Commission chairwoman Inez Tannenbaum told me and Amy on The Federal Drive that she has sufficient staff to filter out complaints that will inevitably come in that don’t come under CPSP. She said they’ll redirect those posts to the agencies that to have sway.
Not that the CPSC didn’t anticipate this problem. The drop-down menu of product categories ensures that people don’t report something wrong with, say, chicken. Another drop-down tells consumers what is outside CPSC, with links to those agencies.
The president and the Government Accountability Office have recently pointed out that the multiplicity of agencies each having something to say about food safety is another area ripe for reform and consolidation.
It all gave me an idea. How about one big site called “Tell The Government” or “Federal Complaint Central.” It would have these characteristics:
- Simple online form with field for the product name, what it is generically, who the manufacturer is, name and type of store from which it was purchased, zip code, and a text field for the specific problem.
- A software analysis engine that, knowing what agencies oversee what, and backed by a database of retailers and manufacturers, could quickly sort and forward to the appropriate agency. It would be able to spot and block instances of repeat complaints or postings with identical wording coming from various URLs.
- The complaints would be forwarded to the manufacturer and retailer so they could investigate (as the CPSC does).
No longer would consumers have to wade through 101 or more web sites just to figure out where to complain. It would be up to each agency to decide how to handle the complaint according to its standard procedures.