Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Recovery.gov—Access Problems For The Government's New Website?

The Obama administration has finally pushed its stimulus bill through Congress and has a website for it up and running. Hooray for government transparency and change you can believe in. I was pretty eager to read the bill. Actually, I probably would have just skimmed it for a few minutes and gotten bored the way I did with the House version of the bill. But I was definitely interested in looking at it if for no reason than because it was available online. While Congress has been making the text of bills available in excruciating detail for years, as far as I know this was the first time that the president went to such pains to actually publicize and build websites for a single law. The website was actually live (empty but live) for at least a week before the stimulus bill passed.

So I eagerly went to the website today and was excited to see a polished, professional, and good looking website along with a link to full text of the stimulus bill. Awesome! Then I actually clicked on the link. Nothing. Apparently, JavaScript coders are also getting a stimulus package. I use NoScript to disable scripting on websites by default in Firefox. Most websites work just fine with Javascript turned off and given how common it is these days for malicious websites to download malware onto your computer, it just makes sense for me. But I guess I can trust the government right? It's not like a politician has ever lied to me.

So I enabled JavaScript for recovery.gov and it popped up a message telling me that I was leaving the recovery.gov server displaying the full text of the link which it is sending me to. Is this really necessary? After all, the full text of any link is displayed on a browser's status bar anyway—or at least it would be if somebody hadn't decided to hide the link behind a JavaScript pop up. Still I clicked through and was taken to a the white house website where the bill conveniently divided into five parts and available in available in either PDF or ASCII formats. Excellent! Then I actually clicked on something. Another pop up. So I enable JavaScript for whitehouse.gov and click again and nothing. Aaargh! So I try one more time. Taking note of URL and enable JavaScript gpo.gov (the Government Printing Office?) and click again and nothing.

I tried to access the website again with Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. I used a brand new computer where IE had JavaScript turned on and Chrome always has JavaScript enabled but I still got the same results. Maybe the government's servers are just overwhelmed by people trying to look at the stimulus bill but if that's not the case....Between these three browsers, I probably have at least 95% of all Internet users covered and I'm a bit worried. Sure, the Bush administration screwed up Afghanistan, Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina but I've just received some very disturbing evidence that the Obama administration can't even get a simple website right.

I really hope I missed something....

Update: Checking in on the website again, it looks like they changed things around a bit. You can now download the full stimulus bill, as signed by the president, in PDF format and actually looks pretty good. Yet another document for me to download and not read. You still have to go through the annoying pop ups but at least you can download it and look at it now. My faith in democracy is restored....

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