GovGuam Web sites starting to get up to speed

by Jason SalasTuesday, January 08, 2002

Public agency Web pages from Guam have long been an eyesore for local developers and online users...but they’re fortunately starting to catch up with the rest of the World (Wide Web)


I’ve been preaching a simple concept to businesses for years: the quality of an organizational Web site is directly reflective of the quality of the organization it represents. Picture it: Guam, circa 1997. A pivotal time in the history of the Internet, as Web presences start to explode, in both personal and commercial fashion. Never one to miss out on a trend (I’m being facetiously sarcastic), several forward-thinking agencies with the Government of Guam made a collective decision to get more involved with this new-fangled Internet thing. So numerous public agencies took the initiative and put a committee together, consisting of 1-2 creative people or a single MIS staffer, or more daringly began the search for a contracted Web developer, assigning them the duty of arduous developing the agency’s formal Web site.

Many of the agencies made the decision to go online as a means of educating the community about their operations, reducing the paperwork necessary for commonly-requested documents, and marketing themselves to the world. I’ve been listening to agency directors talk about putting together sites for the past 4 years, but a positive note is that they’re finally starting to do something about it. Several agencies have recently put new, impressive Web work online, and those who have been online have upscaled their pages to start making the migration from self-glorifying promotional fluff to an actual valuable component of their operations.

But public sites serve so much more than just the normative contact information and mission statement of the agency. And while understandably not the most aesthetic pieces of work in cyberspace, some agencies use data-intensive online documents archives to make their wares publicly-available, like the Department of Administration’s site. In the media business, it’s become imperative that we receive press releases in digital form. This is exponentially more helpful than the traditional fax, which has to be retyped, or scanned and treated through optical character recognition (OCR) software, being put back into digital form. GuamDailyViews.com, the site for the Governor’s Communications Office, has an archive of MP3 files of the Governor’s weekly radio address to the people of Guam, and distributes press releases through its pages. The result is less phone calls to answer, no need to send faxes to 80 different people in 35 different companies, and more time to work on other things.

A movement for improvement?
So what’s the problem? Many GovGuam agencies to date have yet to touch or improve upon them their Web pages since first putting them online...but there is good news...it’s getting better. Several GovGuam sites have successfully launched Web sites over the years...only to run into snags along the way. Widely thought to be the most innovative of GovGuam’s online ventures, the efforts of the Superior Court of Guam are vast and remarkable.

The Court has staffers assigned to Web development and maintenance, and posts information daily on its pages. The most intriguing piece of work from a development standpoint has undoubtedly been the Guam Sex Offender Registry, a database-driven Web application using Java Server Pages technology that features categorical profiles of known sex offenders on island. However, due to a contradiction in legal precedence, the site had to be taken offline for several weeks, with the number of offenders listed on the Registry being reduced from around 90 to only a handful. The Registry was then again posted online, albeit with a drastic reduction to its core asset – its underlying information. The Court’s Web site is fairly large, with areas for the Superior and Supreme courts, the Department of Law, Attorney General’s page, and others. Overall, it’s a very nicely-done project.

The Guam Telephone Authority contracted local development firm iCON Corporation to put together a Web site for the agency to specifically market the agency’s foray into the broadband Internet market with its DSL service...which unfortunately is a moot point now with the lawsuit brought against it by IT&E, GuamCell and Kuentos last year. Go figure.

The Guam Police and Guam Fire departments both have tried to put together Web pages...only to have them removed from the Internet after years of sitting dormant, realizing that Web maintenance is a much longer term project than just a couple days of throwing some text, graphics, and links together. As of this time, they still have yet to develop a formal online presence.

Several other public agencies have made great strides of late in assigning full-time staffers to design, implement, and maintain medium-sized Web sites, including the Governor’s Office, the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, and the aforementioned Superior Court.


Getting back to our roots
Some of the earliest examples of GovGuam Web work really took off...when HTML 1.0 was the in-thing. In 1996, www.gov.gu was Guam’s “official” Web site, but has yet to make any real significant changes to its original design. The Guam Memorial Hospital has made only minor changes to its site, as recently as September of 2000, but largely still caries the same dated, static information. The Guam Visitor’s Bureau had arguably what was the prettiest Guam Web site around in ‘98, but has done next to nothing with it since. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the Department of Mental Heath has an AngelFire.com URL...

However, some sites constantly are under more scrutiny than others, by virtue of their nature. Such is the case with the University of Guam, whose site has yet to make any major changes or really take advantage of the true benefits of online publishing. Many students told me that they wished there was more of a proactive effort in making the pages more uniform in nature, making the information more timely and relevant, updating it more frequently, and having more online applications that they could use. I’m pleased to know that more intuitive applications on the site (Web-based student e-mail, course catalogs, etc.) have accentuated the site and made it more of a useful tool. It also goes without saying that a more modernized site would serve UOG’s effort to recruit more students and professors. And as an alumni (rah-rah, Class of ’96!), I would hope that the University would take more initiative to “build our destiny” and keep up with this an ongoing project, constantly expanding, continually adding more things.


New kids on the online block
By comparison, more Web work is popping up from GovGuam entities these days, more frequently than in years past. Perhaps the interaction with some of Guam’s larger businesses who use the Internet religiously has become an influence to them, allowing them to see the true benefits beyond the marketability of a page, urging them to follow suit. Perhaps they’re doing it due to budget cutbacks, or perhaps its just because they’re tired of repeating over the phone what can easily be accessed off of the Web. The Office of the Public Auditor recently launched a site which had archived audits and other interesting tidbits, and the Guam Juvenile Drug Court recently undertook a project to generate interest in the new court.

And other sites which have sat dormant in the recesses of the World Wide Web are now the subject of renovation projects, such as the Guam International Airport. Either way, it’s progress...and that’s what I like.


So where are we now?
And don’t think I’m just hazing GovGuam, because this trend is consistent in governments in the U.S. mainland. Both at the state and federal levels, Web technology is a practice whose output is the recipient of much criticism. And this is ironic, in that government institutions normally have access to any amount of resources they need, via the infamous and payment-elusive Purchase Order (for example, I have yet to collect commissions from GovGuam sales I made several years ago from my days at ComputerLand).

I’m glad and proud that Guam’s local government has taken the initiative to get more up-to-date with its use of Web technology, and has really started to leverage the Web in their operations. Lord knows they have enough problems to worry about otherwise.

Let’s hope more agencies pick up the beat and get rolling on developing their own Web sites, for the benefit of the island.

Jas’ picks:

I feel that these are the best examples of informative, aesthetically-pleasing, useful sites.


From a developer's point of view, I like these as the best examples of informative, aesthetically-pleasing, useful public sites:

GovGuam Retirement Fund  |  Guam Environmental Protection Agency  |  Office of the Public Auditor
 

GovGuam Websites
GovGuam Retirement Fund
http://www.govguamretirement.com/index.asp 
Guam Visitor’s Bureau
http://www.visitguam.org
Department of Parks and Recreation
http://www.admin.gov.gu/dpr/index.html 
Guam Fire Department
http://www.guam.net/gov/gfd 
Department of Land Management
http://www.admin.gov.gu/dlm/index.html
Governor’s Office
http://www.guamdailyviews.com 
Department of Education
http://www.doe.edu.gu
Guam Memorial Hospital
http://www.gmha.org
Guam Police Department
http://www.guampolice.com
Guam International Airport Authority
http://www.airport.guam.net/
Office of the Public Auditor
http://www.guamopa.org 
Department of Revenue and Taxation
http://www.admin.gov.gu/revtax/index.html
Department of Administration
http://www.admin.gov.gu/doa/
Department of Public Health & Social Services
http://www.admin.gov.gu/pubhealth/
Department of Labor
http://www.labor.gov.gu/
Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
http://www.admin.gov.gu/pubhealth
Department of Commerce
http://www.admin.gov.gu/commerce/
Guam Mass Transit Authority
http://ns.gov.gu/gmta/ 
Guam Telephone Authority
http://www.admin.gov.gu/gta/ 
http://guamtel.net/index2.html 
Guam Juvenile Drug Court
http://www.guamdc.gov.gu/
Guam Telephone Authority – directory service http://411.guam.net/  One-Stop Career Center
http://onestopcareer.gov.gu/ 
Guam Environmental Protection Agency
http://www.gepa.gov.gu 
Guam Economic Development Authority
http://www.investguam.com/
University of Guam
http://www.uog.edu 
Port Authority of Guam
http://www.netpci.com/~pag4/ 
Department of Justice
Department of Justice homepage
http://www.justice.gov.gu/
Superior Court of Guam
http://www.justice.gov.gu/superior/default.htm
Supreme Court of Guam
http://www.justice.gov.gu/supreme/default.htm
Department of Law
http://www.justice.gov.gu/dol 
Guam Bar Association
http://www.guambar.org/
Department of Customs and Quarantine
http://www.justice.gov.gu/custom/index.htm 
Office of the Attorney General of Guam
http://www.justice.gov.gu/dol/ag.htm
Guam Sex Offender Registry
http://jisweb.justice.gov.gu/sor/index.html 
Complete list of e-mail addresses
http://www.admin.gov.gu/doa/GOVGUAMID/internet_id.html 
GovGuam e-mail addresses by agency
http://www.admin.gov.gu/doa/GOVGUAMID/

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