Open government is about more than open information, just as accessibility is about more than availability. The Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm, produces reports full of information about how the government is doing its job and recommendations for improving performance but its website’s busy structure and lack of navigability fails to serve its openness and accountability agenda.
The GAO knows how information can be effectively presented—it’s shown in its presentation of the office’s body of work addressing Duplication, Overlap, and Fragmentation, which is promoted on the office’s home page. The collection is presented with a timeline of GAO’s work on the issue, with links to GAO reports, podcasts, and testimony along the way. But this valuable resource would be difficult to find without its promotion on the front page. GAO should dedicate resources to extend this timeline model to its other resources to make its website more cohesive and accessible. Reports, testimony, explanatory multimedia should all be connected in order to effectively present the depth and breadth of the GAO’s oversight. GAO.gov could show some executive agency websites a thing or two about openness in the amount of information it provides about its operations, staff, and policies but it would greatly benefit from a more organized, more broadly searchable archive of documents and enhanced sharing capabilities.
With its wealth of reports, testimonies, and multimedia, GAO.gov has the potential to serve as a way for the public to more deeply engage with the information it needs for holding its government accountable. In order for that to happen, documents and multimedia should be connected and presented in context. Multimedia should be integrated throughout the site instead of tucked away in its own section. The videos are clear and concise and could be better used when bundled with related documents. By integrating social media throughout the site, GAO’s podcasts and videos could better connect the public with the GAO’s work instead of serving as a side-note on the current site.
The GAO provides resources for Congress, the media, and even the accountability community, but what’s missing is the link to the public as an informational tool. The avenues for participation are limited because there are few opportunities for citizens to explore the context of individual reports. Website visitors can easily dive into the weeds of policy and oversight and get a clear sense of the GAO’s role and operations but cannot engage beyond a “like” on Facebook or a follow on Twitter. By moving beyond simple links and harnessing the value of its information resources, the Government Accountability Office website can serve as an accessible research, oversight, and connective resource for the public.