Examining the US Government’s Subpar Metadata Management and the Pursuit of Enhanced Standards

by | Feb 9, 2024

In the digital age, metadata plays a crucial role in organizing online content. However, a recent evaluation has revealed a significant failure in basic metadata practices for federal websites by the US government, resulting in a low grade. This article explores the evaluation’s key findings, the consequences of poor metadata practices, and the efforts being made to fix the situation.

The evaluation, conducted by Luke Fretwell and his son, Elias, using the “gov metadata” tool, showed a lack of consistent metadata tag requirements across federal websites. This lack of standardization hinders the government’s ability to maintain a cohesive and efficient online presence. Additionally, improper or missing metadata tags negatively impact search engine rankings, potentially overshadowing official government sources with unofficial ones. This compromises the dissemination of accurate information and raises concerns about the legitimacy of unofficial websites ranking higher due to their effective use of metadata.

The absence of correctly set metadata tags also affects users’ experiences on federal websites. Users struggle to determine the authenticity and reliability of websites, leading to confusion and frustration. This highlights the urgent need for the government to prioritize improving metadata practices to enhance citizens’ online experiences. Surprisingly, the evaluation found that the US government’s performance in metadata practices is similar to organizations with limited IT budgets, raising questions about the government’s commitment to optimizing citizens’ online experiences.

The General Services Administration (GSA) plays a crucial role in ensuring the performance of federal websites. They have developed a website scanning tool to measure performance and identify metadata issues. The GSA focuses on collecting data beneficial to specific stakeholders and prioritizes search engine optimization (SEO) and accessibility best practices. This proactive approach shows the government’s willingness to address and fix shortcomings in metadata practices.

Several agencies have taken immediate steps to improve their metadata practices after reviewing their evaluation scores. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promptly fixed all identified metadata issues, demonstrating their commitment to maintaining high standards. Similarly, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) added missing metatags to its site templates, enabling better organization and discoverability of information. However, the evaluation also revealed a lack of standardized metadata practices across federal websites, hindering optimization of search results and providing a seamless user experience.

To address this inconsistency, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is working on expanding best practices for search engine optimization and metadata use to establish a standard framework. The State Department, responsible for representing US interests abroad, has acknowledged the importance of the evaluation findings and intends to review the results and take necessary actions to improve their metadata practices. This commitment to continuous improvement reflects their dedication to maintaining a strong online presence.

Despite the low grade in basic metadata practices, some agencies have made significant progress toward improvement. The Social Security Administration (SSA), for instance, implemented changes to enhance its score and meet guidelines set by Search.gov. This proactive approach demonstrates the government’s willingness to learn from the evaluation and make necessary adjustments to improve their online presence. However, not all agencies have embraced the evaluation findings, as the Department of Education disputes the evaluation of its websites, highlighting the complexities and challenges associated with evaluating metadata practices across diverse government agencies.

In conclusion, the US government’s low grade in basic metadata practices for federal websites emphasizes the urgent need for improvement. The lack of consistent requirements and standardization poses challenges for administrators and users alike. However, agencies such as the EPA, NRC, and SSA have taken proactive steps to enhance their metadata practices, setting an example for others to follow. With the OMB’s efforts to expand best practices and the State Department’s commitment to review and take action, the government is on its way to improving its online presence and ensuring a seamless user experience for its citizens.